DAY FOUR Though the Mexican port town of Cozumel was just outside the Mariner's hull, it seemed worlds away during meditation class, which drew much smaller groups. We sat against mirrored walls as Michael or Robin started us off with a pranayama, such as alternate-nostril breathing, to help get us centered. Then we moved deeper, always focusing on the breath, counting our inhalations and exhalations or just observing them. Occasionally our teachers experimented with a two-syllable mantra, which we'd silently repeat to ourselves. I tried to exclude all other thoughts and sensations and stay composed.
Sitting solo at home, I'm easily distracted, but on the gently swaying ship I dropped effortlessly into a deep trance. I'd open my eyes after 15 or 20 minutes, amazed that so much time had elapsed; I felt as if we'd just begun. After class, Lynda Fishbourne, a tanned and lithe 56-year-old creative director from Tampa, put what I was thinking into words. "I love the dynamic of meditating with other people," she said. "It's not so much that you're overtly connecting with them. It's more that when people around you are going inward, it helps you to go there, too." That's not just the company, I told her. In posture work, our mobile yoga unit's rolling motion was an occasional hindrance, but in meditation, it enhanced the experience. Lynda agreed: the slow, rhythmic writhing of the ocean was relaxing, putting us into a meditative state and holding us there, rocking us in an aquatic cradle.
DAY FIVE After almost a week at sea, I was making real progress in my morning yoga as well. (The first day's crowding had been solved by a sign-up sheet limiting the class to 25 people.) Now, when we bent over in a Forward Fold, I could touch the floor again. Thanks to regular applications of Jitesh's ice deliveries, which were waiting for me in a silver champagne bucket after each day's class, my Achilles was holding up. Though I already knew the poses, Robin and Michael's explanation of each movement's biomechanics—"tucking the tailbone under opens up the pelvic floor"—gave me new insight into my anatomy and alignment. When they combined the asanas we'd learned into faster-paced sequences—moving us from the Mountain stance to a Forward Fold or from a Plank to a Cobra and on to a Downward -Facing Dog—the veterans eagerly helped out the rookies. The beginners especially impressed me. At 44, Janice O'Connor, a Missouri horse-trainer and riding teacher, was one of the youngest yoga cruisers. Without previous experience, she threw herself into her practice with athletic abandon. "That's typical," her partner, Eric Olson, told me after class at the poolside bar. On the stool next to him, Janice was banging down an 11 a.m. rum punch. "She'll try anything," he said, "and when she does, she takes it to the max."
DAY SIX Most days I'd been having lunch alone at one of the shaded outdoor tables of La Veranda. From its vantage point in the stern of the ship, the restaurant's wooden patio presented sweeping views of the sea and the ports. In keeping with the cruise's wellness theme, I'd fill up on fresh salads and seafood from the buffet (with extra helpings of salmon carpaccio), plus an occasional chocolate truffle or cheese course. Waiters and wine stewards seemed to outnumber passengers two to one—rarely would I have to wait a beat after asking for something before it would appear.
I was cautious during the day, but as a luxury yogi, I would never neglect dinner. I tried each of the ship's four restaurants, indulging in everything from the chicken-and-coconut soup at Latitudes, which offered a set Asian tasting menu, to the rack of lamb at La Veranda. On my fifth night, I joined Lynda Fishbourne and her husband, Bill ("just call him Fish," she told me), at the Compass Rose, over complimentary bottles of Pouilly Fumé—from the Loire Valley—and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The next evening, while eating with Robin at the more upscale Signatures (the restaurant run by Le Cordon Bleutrained chefs), I sampled roasted sea bass. Robin and I concurred that, ayurvedically speaking, it went well with a crisp Sancerre. The camaraderie of the yoga group made traveling on my own less of a challenge, though I was still able to enjoy some moments alone. After dinner, I picked up a novel at the library and headed to an oversized leather armchair in the Connoisseur Lounge.
Usually the interval between lunch and meditation was the best time to advance my pampering agenda. The efficient white-clad staff at the Carita spa came to recognize me, as I trooped in repeatedly, treating myself to a massage or facial every other day. (After all, I was recovering from a serious injury.) I would waste an hour in the men's steam room and sauna. A talented masseur named Virgilio Gumia was recommended by the yogis; his mixture of Swedish, pressure-point, and Thai massage—several times he lifted me by my midsection almost completely off the table—left me so relaxed, I was practically unconscious.
DAY SEVEN The night before, I'd stayed late on my balcony, leaning on the railing and looking out at the Key West park below. Fire-jugglers threw flaming props into the dark as street musicians blared and bass boomed from the portside bars. The next day, our second in Key West, we'd have our last morning yoga class. As I thought back over my week-long reentry into yoga and my maiden cruise, I realized just how well those two elements—which had once seemed so disparate—had come together. At sea, I had little to distract me, and joining a group who shared a common interest gave me an unconscious sense that, as one of my classmates put it, "we were all in this together."
Back on our mats that sunny morning, we flowed through an hour of standing, sitting, and prone postures, moving to the rhythms of our breath. When the group chanted our final Om, I honestly felt fantastic. My chest was broader and more open, my legs tingling and alive. As I stood up I could feel a vast unclenching, a huge "Ahhhhhhhhhhh" of relief and letting go. My joints and muscles had been oiled and lubricated. Instead of a corroded Tin Man, I felt—and moved—like a flesh-and-blood yogi again. Repaired and restored, I would clank no more.
JOHN CAPOUYA is the author of Real Men Do Yoga (Health Communications, Inc.).