How To Survive Five A.M. Yoga Without Murdering Your Instructor

It’s really hard for me to get up for yoga at 5am. Not ending-global-hunger-hard or even running-a-10k-hard, fine. But as far as creating habits go, this one is proving to be as resistant as MRSA.

Despite all this, every weekday morning for a month I’ve wrenched myself from bed, fumbling for yoga pants in the dark. I zombie-walk from bed to bathroom, from closet to car, and navigate ice-cloaked streets to the studio.

In the lobby I exchange bleary smiles with other pre-dawn stragglers as we shrug off our winter coats and take personal inventories: water, mat, towel — check. This morning an unfamiliar face greets me at the check-in desk — “Hi sweetie!” –and asks for my swipe card. I’ll call him Bodhi.

I have one of those corporate, Chandler Bing-type jobs, which I always end up describing apologetically in a way that makes people regret asking me what I do. The job itself is stressful, and the loathing of it more stressful still. Yoga helps. This is why, despite ardent protests of my circadian rhythm, I get up at 5am.

“No Noelle today?” I inquire casually, although Noelle is at least half the reason I make it to class at this hour. She wins points for playing Cat Stevens before class and for keeping the spiritual mumbo-jumbo to a minimum.

“No sweetie, she’s out of town this week,” Bodhi says, pushing his lower lip out the way my three-year-old does when I say no more Cheez-Its. “I’ll be guiding you through your practice this morning. I’m really looking forward to sharing our energy!”

I offer a wan smile, edging ever so slightly backward. “Great.”

In the studio I arrange my stiff limbs into an approximation of Child’s Pose. No Cat Stevens today, I note. I close my eyes with a sigh and wait.

“Good morning yogis, and thank you for arriving mindfully on your mats today,” Bodhi singsongs, entering the room with a theatrical flourish as I bite back a reflexive grimace. A little energetic for 5 a.m., I think to myself, but all fine. I’ll just try some deep breathing.

“Let’s try some deep breathing,” Bodhi offers, beaming at a spot on the back wall. I feel my lip curl as he inhales and inexplicably begins affecting an English accent. “In-hayle,” he intones, illustrating the action with a Mary Lou Retton-style chin lift, “and ex-hayle. Powerful breath, yogis.”

I screw my eyes shut as Bodhi spends the next five minutes virtue-shaming the class with a story about how locking his keys in the car that morning caused him to “surrender to the moment” instead of spitting expletives in the direction of the locked door like a normal person. “Approach your day today with a sense of possibility!” he chirps. “Carry the intention of living in the now. In-hayle.” His English lilt has by now morphed into a full-blown “British-Madonna” brogue. I’ve never resented breathing so much.

I squint to the left and right to see if anyone else is contemplating leaping from their mat to strangle Bodhi, but without my glasses all I can make out are some neon blurs. I grit my teeth. My aura must be inky black by now.

This is a test, I think as we move through our sun salutations, and I’m failing it. I try to count backwards from ten. I try to remember that thing that someone once said about no one making you feel bad without your permission. I try to clear my mind completely. I realize that instead, I’m fantasizing about lightly whipping Bodhi across the face with my yoga strap.

Then, right in the middle of Toppling Tree the pink neon blur to my right exhales sharply, rolls up her mat and marches out of the room, letting the door close with a soft but defiant whoosh. I stare after the blur, envious. My tree topples precariously.

“Can I get a smile, yogis? High-five your neighbor! In-hayle!”

Fuck this, I think, and follow her. Cool air hits my skin as I stride through the lobby toward the locker room, chin lifted in what feels like pride. I grope in the locker for my glasses and turn toward my liberator, a petite blond in Converse sneakers who’s standing by the sinks. Our eyes lock.

“What. Is with. The English. Accent,” she growls, and we bend toward each other in unison, racked by sudden, silent giggles.

“I’m so glad you left,” I say as I wipe mascara from my eyes. “I never would’ve ditched that class on my own.” We walk outside into the gray dawn.

“Here’s to not doing any shit we don’t want to do today,” she quips, raising her water bottle and knocking it lightly against mine. She smiles at me and skips down the stairs to her car with a wave. “Namaste!” I call, and hear laughter echo up the stairs. “Namaste!”

Ice glitters on my windshield as I ease onto the highway and I squint, lines creasing the corners of my eyes. When I pull into the parking lot of my office building ten minutes later the lines are still there; I’ve been grinning the whole way.