“Asteya,” says the sign in the locker room, “non-stealing. Please practice asteya while at the yoga studio.” As if person who is a kleptomaniac will see that and assume an attitude of non-stealing in deference to the sign? It makes you want to bring a lock.
Classes are held in a small office building catering to the alleged needs of wealthy, urban women. On the ground floor are hair and nail salons, on the second floor therapy, on the third floor massage, the 4th, yoga. A kind of Hotel California of progressive self-improvement where manicures are the gateway drug.
We are in Chicago for the week. I search the Google map to see if there is anything to do within walking distance. My husband will babysit. Carpe diem, baby. When you have children you have this Venn diagram of free time, distance and expense. When they used to have swimming lessons on Saturday mornings, my husband and I worked out on either side of the class and used our time in these other neighborhoods to execute regular shopping trips, to the butcher, the baker and the coffee roaster.
For a time, Saturday mornings involved swimming lessons followed by meeting our friends in the indoor playground that was next to a squash court within a large complex in West London. A disused slide came down from an upper floor, like something you would find in the penguin house, and concluded in the heated teaching pool. We kept waiting for them to reopen it but in the two years we went there they never did. The dad and I played squash before their kids had swimming lessons, after ours had. Then our family went to a caff for late breakfast, rolled our shopping cart full of wet towels through Portobello Market buying coffee and produce, stopping at Delfuente’s, a family-run shop specializing in Spanish food, for black beans (surprisingly hard to find in London), chorizo, pimenton, then home.
It would take one thing to tip the balance. The caff changed management, the swimming schedule changed, Delfuente closed up shop after the rent increased, the gym under Whiteley’s folded, we moved house. And so each segment would come to an end. We switched pools from Kensington to Seymour Place, from Portobello to Marylebone. The girls stopped swimming and went instead to dance classes. We took them to the pool at the Queen Mother Sports Centre and to the Tachbrook Street market, the Rippon Cheese Shop full of deliciousness. We read the Sunday paper while they used the water slide.
I joined the QM squash league and played people who worked in local government. One man was with London Transport. He managed the Victoria Tube Station and would play morning games after night shifts. My first London squash league experience had been at a private club with a bar. It was very UK Gold, very 80s. You booked courts by putting coins into a machine for stamps and pasting stamps into a ledger. We played matches throughout Middlesex, ending the evenings in social rooms eating curries and drinking half-pint glasses of bitter, for if a home team failed to provide suitable hospitality in the form of drinks and hot food they were fined points by the league. We returned late at night from Harrow and Hounslow. Then I traded in my racket for a maternity swimsuit.
One time I tried a salsa class, for a chance of pace. A lot of people turned up, but to my increasing dismay, I was one of only two people wearing exercise clothes and non-clackety shoes, but, having already made whatever childcare arrangements needed to be made to be there, I stayed and tried to be as graceful and fierce as one can be in big stupid aerobics sneakers.
This summer, I fell into a pattern of early morning step classes with a group of retirees who had been working out together for years and would cry out “War Eagle!” (Auburn) when they felt the burn or to provoke our instructor (Ole Miss), but this was hard to maintain once school started up again. It was in a club that reminds me in its 70s seediness of the underground bunker where I learned to play squash in high school, nestled between a shooting gallery and an OTB (Off-Track Betting) parlor, where the gunshots, the (back then) hardball squash rallies, and the staccato of the racing announcer combined to create an adrenal soundtrack.
It is strange to be here, in Chicago, in a room with all of these very fit, very polished, very young women, with pedicures and stylish workout clothing. Here am I in my $6.99 sweats from Target and the bamboo yoga tank I bought from the studio’s sale rack when I realized I would be working out in a 100º room, with weights. I like hot yoga. I unfurl my mat near the heater.
At the end of class, we are invited to stay in savasana for 30 minutes until the next class starts but everyone clears out, zips up their parkas, checks their phones and heads back out into the cold.
And at the end of the weekend, we retrieve the car from its snowbank and drive home, where there is no squash, no hot yoga. “I wish I’d gotten a Vienna hotdog,” my husband says wistfully, as I am sitting here wondering how to wrap this up. But this is the season of resolve, so surely I will find a way.