Wet jungle vines slapped against her face with the cloying caress of toddlers on the edge of a tantrum. Freeing one hand, she shoved the vines aside and paused to wipe the sheen of sweat from her brow.

It was the thought of the ancient civilizations ahead that kept her going – of the foundations of temples carved into the earth. Of steps carved upward toward the heavens, ascending the mountains until lost in the low-lying clouds. Of once-sun drenched plazas where young warriors lost their lives in a blood-gushing attempt to appease cruel gods, the priest’s bloody ceremonial knife swiftly cutting the upstretched throat.

Well, actually it was Balance Class and the vines were strands of my own hair, wrapping around my throat and trying to choke me – but it was ALMOST as romantic…

Today Barbara decided to torment us with innocent little yoga blocks in serene moss or “fun” purple. At first it was just entertaining. Set two blocks up to either side of you (these blocks are like really oversized bricks, but made of something far lighter) and without rocking to either side, reach your leg outwards toward the block (no upper-body cheating, you – all movement comes from below the waist) and tap the block. Repeat on the other side.

Blocks were toppling all around, but we all were fresh and young and innocent and cheerfully set our blocks back up, little guessing what came next.

Between tapping the blocks with our sneaker-clad toes, we had to get down on the floor in a plank position.

(You know the plank, right? Go on all fours and tense up every abdominal muscle you’ve got. Don’t forget that step; it’s critical. Then stretch one foot back as far as it will go; send the other foot to join it. Now you’re poised on toes and hands, and you’re not allowed to let that plump, soft, heavy sit-downery part sag. Hold that back RIGID. See above, re: abdominal muscles.)

Sometimes we had to shift our weight enough to reach to the side and tap the block with our hands, alternating sides while desperately counting out twenty taps. Then more standing poses – reach backwards with the foot. Step over the blocks. Do a figure eight around the blocks; these standing poses were supposed to give our hearts time to settle, but come ON.

In between each standing pose, it was back to the planks. This time, put the blocks next to your feet. Reach out and tap the block with your toe. Groans filled the room.

The last one – the one that made me feel as if I was inching fatly through a really bad remake of an Indiana Jones movie – involved traveling. Start in a plank with your hands between the two blocks. Shift the left hand over and beyond the left block. Bring the left foot to the side. Shift the right hand over; bring the right foot along. Now back to center. Now to the right. Now back to center. Now back to the left.

During this time, someone in the class asked Barbara a question, and the two of them had a hushed, thoughtful, totally distracted conversation while the rest of the class groaned and grunted and clung to that plank position like we were summiting an Aztec fortress in the Andes – not because we wanted to, but because to do anything else meant grim death.

My unconfirmed role in the class is to be the one who breaks first and cries out “Barbara! Come ON!” And then Barbara says “THREE MORE!” and we all give serious consideration to just giving up and dying to get it all over with…

…but then it’s suddenly time for stretching and mopping off with a gym towel and the blissful, burbling, effervescent feeling of having finished a tough one, still on one’s feet.

Is the feeling worth it? Is it really THAT good?

Hell, yes!

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