I've done some pretty scary things in my life — swum from Alcatraz, bungee jumped off a bridge the size of the Sunshine Skyway, even wrestled an alligator — but nothing compared to the fear and trepidation I experienced before my first power yoga class.
"You'll be fine," Personal Best editor Charlotte Sutton said as she led me into the Aquastone Well Spa in St. Petersburg. "There's nothing to it."
I've always thought of myself as a guy's guy. I like power tools, muscle cars and beer. I don't eat quiche, drink wine spritzers or do anything that might be considered even remotely sensitive.
Yet there I was on a Saturday morning in a room full of women, many of whom looked like they could easily kick my butt.
My worries were unfounded. Yoga, I would learn, is a peaceful art.
"Strength," the instructor informed me, "comes from within."
Jade Skinner, a 33-year-old North Carolinian, has been practicing yoga for nine years.
"When I first started, my instructor told me that it would change my life forever," Skinner said. "She was right."
Yoga, Skinner explained, is more than a form of exercise.
"It's a lifestyle," she said. "If you practice enough, your body will begin to tell you what it needs and what it doesn't need."
Like bacon cheeseburgers and chicken wings, two mainstays of my "man diet," recently abandoned yet still evident in my midsection as I tried to contort my rugby player's body according to Skinner's instructions.
"Breathe deeply," she said. "Concentrate."
Breathing, it turned out, would be one of my more difficult tasks that morning.
"Your breath should sound like the wind rustling through the treetops or like waves crashing on the beach," Skinner later explained.
My breathing sounded more like my yellow Lab after she's chased a squirrel for a half-hour then collapsed on the pool deck.
But Skinner's breaths, even during the most difficult exercise, always sounded deep and even, like that black-clad villain in Star Wars.
Yoga positions, also called asanas, can target one or several muscle groups. Most yoga practitioners refer to the positions by their English translations, such as warrior, eagle, tree or mountain. My least favorite was Adho Mukha Svanasana, or the downward-facing dog.
In this particular maneuver, which begins in a standing position, your palms and feet are on the ground, and your rear end is high in the air. Kind of like my yellow Lab when she does her morning stretch.
I found this particularly challenging because the pose stretched muscles that I am very sure no Tomalin man has used since the time of our simian ancestors.
Holding the position for a minute or more really worked my arms and core/mid-section (see cheeseburger reference), but just when I thought it was over, Skinner transitioned into a pushup position, which she called "the plank."
"Hold it . . . hold it," Skinner said as the women around me, their bodies rigid as railroad ties, held their bodies perfectly straight, hovering an inch from the floor.
My arms, used to pumping pushups, soon began to quiver. I looked over at Charlotte, glad that she was far enough away that she couldn't see me struggle. (Editor's note: I was struggling too, Terry.)
After what seemed like an eternity, Skinner released us and I crumpled to the mat, collapsed like boneless gastropod.
"It is a new position," I told Skinner, who asked if I was all right. "I call it the slug."
a new routine
A few days and half a bottle of ibuprofen later, I met with Skinner.
"You worked me," I said. "When can we do it again?"
She told me if I was serious, I would have to practice at least three to five times a week, for 45 to 90 minutes each session.
"If you want to see the maximum benefits," she said, "you have to stick with it."
As a swimmer, surfer, runner, paddler and all around active guy, I can appreciate the obvious health benefits of a regular power yoga routine.
To you manly men out there who may scoff at my story: Laugh while you can, because if you stop by one of Skinner's power yoga classes, you might end up crying.
Terry Tomalin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.