Yoga, Zen, biting flies and f-bombs
It was really the fault of the flies, not me, that I lost my Zen state.
I had been pretty blissed out most of the year. If you overlooked the slight rise in my voice over Tom’s refusal to follow Siri’s explicit driving directions on one of the many back, back roads we drove. Or the miniscule handful of f-bombs I delivered when drawers, cabinets or the bathroom door flew open around a curve after someone, not naming any names, failed to latch them before takeoff. Or the wee bit unruffled I became when items fell on my head from overhead bins. That airline admonition about items moving in flight applies to rolling homes, too. Other than those tiny cracks in my state of cool, I was really pretty serene.
The yoga helped.
This year, year two of our fulltime life on the road in The Epic Van, we added daily yoga to our schedule. It helps to stretch out our hamstrings, tight from hiking, and oil our creaky joints, stiff from van life and driving.
In our new life, we have more time, but fewer sticks and bricks resources.
When you’re permanently moving, there’s no way to pop over to our regular gym, hit the twice-weekly workout class or join the local biking group.
But we do have the great outdoors. In most places, we hike, walk on the beach, or ride our bikes around town.
The one piece that was lacking was a good stretch or upper-body workout.
I had wised up to yoga years ago, loving the way it loosened my tense back and knotted brain. Tom, a hiker and basketball player who couldn’t get within a mile of touching his toes, regularly said, “I need to start doing yoga,” but never really fit it into his old work/sports/cooking/parenting/life schedule.
Now that we had both quit our jobs and hit the road, he really had no excuse.
We packed our yoga mats in the back and I downloaded a cool new app that gives you multiple options for yoga sessions focused on strength, flexibility and balance, as well as detailed explanations of all the poses and some quick sun salutations, a series of yoga movements to get your day rolling.
Obviously, there is no room inside the Epic Van for downward dogs, so we put on our yoga pants, T-shirts, and flip flops, mine in hot pink, and carried our mats outside to conduct our “practice.” We found shady spots next to high-school tracks, where we could walk or run afterward, or a patch of level ground at a campsite, or a city park, or a beach. You have to get used to odd glances from passers-by not used to seeing warrior poses. But when we finished with the very appropriate corpse pose, we often were gazing up through sun-speckled leaves of aspens in northern Arizona, oaks in the Ozarks or birch in northern Michigan.
We started with the 30-minute beginner essentials.
I set my mini iPad on the ground between our mats, pressed the play button, and a lovely, lithe, pretzel-flexible young woman appeared, seated on her yoga mat. As she began to move, a calm, nearly narcotized voice directed us to take deep breaths, told us where to place our hands and feet for the poses, and encouraged us to “enjoy this passive stretch,” even though nothing really felt passive.
The beginner session used for a lot of forward folds and runner’s lunges to start lengthening those long-ignored hamstrings, some half-boat/crab alternations in which you sit in a “v” with your knees bent, then make an upside-down table, your bellybutton the center of the top, to begin to strengthen your core, and a couple of tree poses to wake up the balancing gyroscope lazing behind your inner ear. The last few minutes were devoted to relaxation, lying comatose on the mat, the strangely atonal music hypnotizing your endorphin-soaked brain until the disembodied voice told you to return to a sitting position and “let this happy yoga feeling follow you into the rest of your day.”
Sure. OK. I could do that.
In less than a week, Tom was hinging downward a couple of inches closer to his toes. I was feeling the familiar relaxation in my lower back. More happy yoga days. Another week and we moved on to the 60-minute version of beginner’s essentials, which added some more challenging balancing poses, like king dancer, some deeper stretches, like lizard, and an extra boat-crab combo for your core.
In Princeton, Indiana, we grabbed a spot next to the pavilion at the municipal park, where kids in summer camp ate their snacks before games of dodge ball. In Holland, Michigan, where we camped on a blacktop spot next to the unshaded beach, we drove to a nearby park, where squirrels bounded through the trees, completely disinterested in our moves. Near Houghton, Michigan, we spied a grassy spot at the empty campsite next to us. Super convenient. Super bad move.
As we flung out our mats, I noticed a couple of flies. No worries, I thought. I’d had daddy-long-leg spiders and ladybugs crawl across my mat in one spot, flicked ants off my toes in another and even watched a raccoon make its morning rounds at our spot near a dog park. The creatures really added to the ambiance, especially listening to the bird calls, the lapping water or the wind rustling the tree branches overhead. I was really adapting to this outdoor life.
Flies were no big deal, I figured. If they started to bother me, I’d just wave them away. That was before I realized they could bite. Seriously? Biting flies. WTF? One of them nipped my ankle. Holy Jesus. It hurt.
I went back to the van and got the can of bug spray, laced with DEET, the stuff my doctor told me to spray on clothes, not skin. We sprayed our yoga pants and T-shirts. That will send them packing, I thought, as we sat down cross-legged on our mats.
Not so much. By the time I hit the start button, there were a lot more flies. It was like a fly memo went out. Fresh meat on aisle seven. One nipped my bare underarm. “Ouch. Damn,” I barked.
I threw carcinogenic caution to the wind and sprayed the DEET-laced brew directly onto dermis.
I swear, I could see the look of defiance in their buggy fly-eyes as they landed in the still-damp DEET, glanced up at me and sunk their little fly proboscises into my tender flesh. “Ouch. Shit.”
I began to feel like the put-upon Percheron’s who pulled our horse carts on Mackinac Island, stamping their hooves, twitching their flanks and swinging their tails to keep the little bastards at bay.
Determined to get our workout in, we soldiered on. I tried flailing my arms wildly, hoping to fan all the areas of bare skin frequently enough to keep them free of interlopers. Chomp. “Ouch. Crap, that hurt!”
My boat started sinking and my crab collapsing as I moved on to slapping myself, leaving visible finger marks. “Fuck!”
During seated forward bend, when my eyeball was close to my thigh, I watched a little mother bite me right through my yoga pants. “Shit. I don’t know if I can take this,” I yelled over the nearly narcotized, yoga-lady voice.
I later read there are three different kinds of biting flies along Lake Superior, two of which slash the skin to lap up blood, the third probing into the skin like a mosquito.
I was definitely losing the Zen feeling.
They were dining in groups now, three or four together, laughing at us with their little fly friends.
I grabbed my hot-pink flip flop and started whapping myself.
“You’re all gonna’ die, you little fuckers.”
Tom started to giggle, then laugh out loud at my homicidal rage, and said something about getting kicked out of the ashram.
I packed it in, rolling up my mat and diving through the van door, abandoning him to his not-so-happy yoga day.
When he crawled in after me a few minutes later, he admitted his tree was felled by the little fuckers.