I signed up for a month of Bikram Yoga yesterday (at $15 for one class or $30 for thirty classes, I couldn’t resist). An unbelievably energetic teacher named Meadow led us through ninety minutes of vigorous exercises in a 105° room. Sweat did not run in rivulets from the twenty students; it descended in sheets that formed puddles and spilled over the sides of their mats. Three of us were first-timers, the other two seemingly young and fit, yet one of them left after thirty minutes, and the other took frequent breaks. I was hell-bent on sticking it out, but I became so dizzy near the end that I had to rest for short periods. The teacher complimented me on not leaving the room.

No one spoke either before or after class. I assumed they were either anticipating the misery or recovering from it. I looked at how young and beautiful they were, and I knew that, in the absence of desperation, I would not be there. As I biked home, I had trouble staying oriented, and I thought I must be ill. Then I realized that I was just sleepy.

The older I get, the more I find that young people are my doctors and, in this case, my teachers. I am tenacious in my belief that authority figures should be older than I, but, alas, the only way to avoid taking orders from my juniors is to never try anything new—and certainly to never get sick. Yet, there is a positive aspect to how I think about authority figures as I age. Namely, I sometimes refuse to follow their instructions. Yesterday, Meadow kept yelling things like, “Bend your back toward the wall; bend it farther, farther, farther than you ever thought possible,” and I reflected that she wouldn’t be the one with the crushed disk.

I took a class at a regular Yoga studio the day before. The group was small, intimate, and philosophical. I would have signed up for a month, but most of their classes happen before I get out of bed. By contrast, Bikram is factory Yoga. They have classes all day long, all around the globe, and they never talk philosophy. Yet, I am convinced they can help me unless I push myself too far. The extreme heat is supposed to prevent this. It is also said to relieve the body of toxins. If this is true, their carpet must contain hundreds of pounds of noxious bouillon crystals.

It is 1:00 a.m., and I am still drained, yet I look forward to going back this afternoon, maybe because I think it will be easier, or maybe because I can’t believe it was really that hard. I was the only one who laughed during class. I kept looking at the misery around me, and thinking about how we were all paying good money for it. The absurdity tickled me, and I giggled repeatedly.

As I left the building, a man on the sidewalk was screaming obscenities at a woman, and she at him. Another man and another woman had been doing the same thing when I entered. Continuing on, I passed a bike tire locked to a post, the rest of the bike stolen. I usaully avoid downtown and its desperate people.

Eugene was very different when I moved here twenty years ago. I never felt fear then. I saw it the way the Oregon Trail settlers saw it—as the Promised Land. The town and I have both changed. It is growing from a big town into a bonafide city that doesn’t spend nearly enough on law enforcement, and I am growing into something that I am not sure about, but something ever better.

Yesterday, as I walked the sidewalk to a hopefully safer place where I had locked my own bike, I looked at the many desperate people, and I knew that none of them would bother me. Sweat was pouring from me in such abundance in the cool air that I looked as if I was dying from something that could be contagious.