Yoga. In a chair. With my elders. My big, gay elders. How could I pass? Sign me up for this 60-minute adventure of loose clothing, sassy seniors and unnatural positions.
The chair yoga class is one of many offerings from SAGE Atlanta (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), which is a program of the Health Initiative at the Phillip Rush Center. The group launched chair yoga last year and it became so popular that the third series of classes recently started.
Upon entering the Rush Center, I went to the Georgia Equality office and asked the location of the class. A nice young woman at the front desk greeted me, looking at me like I was slightly insane. I guess it was confusing seeing a man in workout clothes who was half the age of anyone who uses SAGE's services asking about their chair yoga class. For all she knew, this was my fetish and I was looking for a hookup. Hey, it's been done.
After being sent in the right direction, I walked through double-doors into a low lit room where I was enveloped by soothing, tranquil music. I felt like the meat in an Enya sandwich.
I was immediately and warmly greeted by class instructor Stacey Shulman, a certified yogi and self-described “Wake Up Fairy for Your Soul.” You can tell right off the bat that her temperament makes yoga the perfect gig for her, but if it doesn't work out she could use that calm demeanor to find work as the world's first screaming goat whisperer.
The right kind of sassy
The class size was small and lesbian-centric, with five women and one man who all looked to be in their 60s or 70s. And they were just the right kind of sassy.
When I asked if it was okay to take pictures, they all said okay with the exception of one who asked me not to take pictures of her “holey shirt.” To which another replied, “Is it sacred?” Ha! We're gonna be best friends, sassy pun lady.
Noticing the one man in the group, I glanced down at his name tag and was pleasantly surprised to find out it was the one and only Diamond Lil. For those not up on their gay Atlanta history, Diamond is a legendary drag queen performing for nearly a half-century, making her mark at long-shuttered bars and clubs including Mrs. P's on Ponce De Leon, Sweet Gum Head on Cheshire Bridge, and Club Centaur on Peachtree Street. You can still catch her performing torch songs Tuesday nights at Mixx alongside pianist David Reeb.
So with a handful of wily lesbians and a drag queen in tow, it was time to take our seats and begin. I had never done yoga before so I wasn't sure what to expect. Sadly, the only thing I had heard was that the unnatural positions people put themselves in tend to make them break wind. Luckily it did not prove true on this day.
We started with a move where you curve your arms out wide then clasp your fingers together at the highest point above your head, making a big circle. “Inhale...blazing sun moving up your spine...exhale...pushing it back down,” Stacey said. I had never inhaled blazing sun before.
Stacey was supportive and encouraging as she took us through the different moves, gently suggesting tougher alternatives as she went. As she went through each position, explaining how to do what with your body, it made me think of Buddhists doing the hokey pokey.
Camel posture, downward dog
The different positions continued and I was starting to feel really good. Camel posture, downward dog -- “No pictures during downward dog.” Damn! -- and more. Halfway through it was time for meditation. While it was relaxing and tranquil as we shut out all thoughts and just breathed, the spawn of Enya's tunes echoing through the room, I couldn't help but think of abruptly cutting the music to “Dive In The Pool” and turning this mofo out. But I never would have gotten over a roomful of sweet, innocent folks of an advanced age calling me a dick.
As we were wrapping up the class, I started thinking about what the people in this room have witnessed and what they went through growing up gay in completely different, ridiculously more homophobic times. And here they were, doing yoga together in an LGBT community center in Atlanta, surrounded by other gay people who went through the same things. “Never. Never would I have imagined something like this 20 or 30 years ago, especially not here,” one told me later.
Yet here they were. Guided along in these awkward, rejuvenating positions by a motherly figure 30 years their junior and joined by one smartass writer. The class concluded, not a sun left unblazed or a wind broken.
“Be happy, healthy, safe and free. Namaste.”