I’ve returned to my Bikram yoga practice and it feels great, except that the first time I walked into the Capitol Hill studio on New Year’s Eve day, a real cruddy memory came flooding back.
In 2009, I was here in D.C. with the Neo-Futurists, performing for a month at Woolly Mammoth theater — which is just a few blocks from my new home, incidentally. It was that trip that caused me to fall in love with D.C. At the time, I was extremely committed to my yoga practice and would get up at five in the morning to walk to the Capitol Hill studio to take the six a.m. class so that I could be showered, fed, watered and at the theater by nine o’clock rehearsal. I kinda can’t believe I did that.
I had an ostomy bag for many years. I had my first bag for about a year and then the surgeons poked my intestine back into my body. I got sick again right away, so I had to get an ostomy again. The second time, I had it about two years. When I was well enough during both periods, I kept practicing yoga. Bikram yoga is 90 minutes inside a room heated to 105 degrees. An ostomy bag is attached to the body with a wax seal and a sticker. Before every class over those years, I would have to tape up my bag with athletic tape so it wouldn’t fall off, then empty it, and then explain to the teacher before class that in between the standing series and the floor series, I would probably have to go empty it again. I usually did; the second half of a Bikram class is done largely on your belly. A bag full of… Well, you can imagine. Typically, it’s not cool to leave a Bikram class at all, so it was my responsibility to apprise teachers of my special case.
The only time any Bikram teacher ever made me feel bad about my ostomy bag was at the Capitol Hill studio, and I’ve practiced in Bikram studios coast to coast.
“Hey, hi,” I said to the teacher with a smile. “I just wanted to let you know, I have an ostomy bag, and I usually have to go to the bathroom between the standing and floor series, so if that’s cool with y—”
The teacher looked at me like there was a bug crawling across my face. “Oh. Well… Is it…visible?” she asked me, her lip kind of up by her nose.
I blinked. No one had ever asked me that before.
“Uh… No, not… No. I mean, you can see a little bit of the appliance and the tape, I guess, poking up over my shorts…” I trailed off. I felt so lousy. It’s amazing how the differences we have become our “normal” until someone makes them bizarre and therefore wrong.
The other day in the changing room, I heard some very unusual sounds. Two girls were making the sounds, which were kind of breathless squeaks. I turned to see two young ladies smiling and jumping up and down and signing to each other like crazy. Either they hadn’t seen each other in awhile or one of the girls was having a really great day and telling the other about it. One of the girls had a Gallaudet sweatshirt on and I remembered that the prestigious college for the deaf, Gallaudet University, is here in D.C.
Bikram yoga is a class that is taught by one teacher who has a 90-minute “dialogue” that he or she recites. It’s the same every class. You listen to the words, you do the poses. Those girls come to yoga, but they can’t hear the words the teacher is saying. But Bikram yoga is also — and always — taught in a room with a floor-to-ceiling mirror in the front of the room. So you don’t really have to hear the dialogue, I realized; you can just watch what the class is doing and keep perfect pace.
I understand why “disabled” is a term that a lot of people don’t like. “Differently abled” is a far better choice of words.