I tried yoga for the first time today, and here’s my verdict:
I liked it!
No, I really did like it.
Would I do it again? I still have mixed feelings about it.
I’ve managed to be a Millenial and get to my late twenties without ever trying yoga. Believe me — it’s been hard to avoid yoga. I’ve had many people trying to convince me to try it over the years.
There are certain activities that just don’t appeal to me on an intuitive basis. I’ve never watched skiing and thought to myself “I’d like to try that.” I’ve never watched boxing and thought, “That’s so me.” I’ve watched football, basketball, baseball and hockey (sometimes live) but have never been able to muster the same level of enthusiasm as the fans around me. The prevailing thought during those games has always been, “Why is this so exciting? I don’t understand why this is so exciting. What’s happening? *nudges person beside me* What’s happening now? Who’s winning? I don’t understand how the score is being kept… *point is scored* Wait. What just happened?! Someone please explain to me what just happened!!!”
Just like I’ve never been interested in smoking, or drinking, or eating lobster, or eating shrimp, I’ve heard about yoga — in fact I’ve heard much about yoga — but I was never interested in trying it.
I know I’m in the minority (when am I not in the minority?).
My issue with yoga was/is manifold:
- I don’t understand how yoga is different from the basic stretching that I do at the end of my workouts and thus I don’t see what benefit there is to yoga as opposed to just stretching.
- Stemming from the first point, what are the benefits of practicing yoga? Why can’t I just meditate or do visualizations using free YouTube videos?
- Yoga is gonna bend me into shapes I was never meant to be in. I’ll come out feeling like a pretzel. I may not even be able to come out. I may not be able to walk.
- Yoga has a spiritual underpinning that does not mesh with my (Christian) spirituality. Intuitively, I’ve always believed that I would feel somewhat uncomfortable attending a yoga class. No matter what people have said to try to convince me otherwise, yoga is spiritual and it’s not just stretching (I know that contradicts my first point — “isn’t yoga just stretching?” — but it’s my blog and I don’t have to make sense).
Many people have tried to change my mind. I’ve done a really good job of avoiding yoga, if I do say so myself. Many friends of mine all throughout school were into yoga. I had a boss who went to India and became a yogi and stuff and came back to the office and wanted to offer us free yoga sessions so that she could practice. I told her I felt uncomfortable with the idea (Read: hell to the no). I have friends who are yogis. I had to schedule yoga instructors to teach yoga for Wellness Wednesday at the Department of Justice. I’m a group fitness instructor, and my colleagues are yoga instructors. Not to mention peer pressure. I once worked with a lawyer who would swear by yoga, and told me it was the reason her triceps became so toned (I nodded politely, all the while thinking, “How the heck would yoga tone your triceps?”) Because of the demographic to which I belong (single, woman, young adult, twenties) and where I’ve typically lived and worked (large urban centres and downtown area), and my vocation (law, human resources), pretty much everyone around me and their mother practices yoga. All I ever hear is yoga this, and yoga that, and yoga, yoga, yoga, and I’m always surrounded by lithe, Lululemon-wearing people who swear by yoga. Still, I had no interest.
Then, my friend Maria messaged me on Facebook, telling me that I just have to try her hot yoga class.
Maria is one of my former Zumba students who has become a good friend. She loved my Thursday night Zumba class at Movati, but then she hurt herself and started skipping out on my Zumba class to go to this hot yoga class because she said it helps her back (I know. I know. I love her anyways).
I hadn’t seen her or heard from her in a while, so when she messaged me, I was pretty much gonna go just because I’d hadn’t seen her. But it was yoga. And not only yoga — it was hot yoga. I told her that I would “check my schedule” which is always code for “yeah…no. Probably not.”
But then she was like:
“Well its hot yoga, which is very relaxing, plus the heat is sooooo rejuvinating! I know it sounds over the top, but you have to experience it at least once.
plus you sleep like a baby after…total stress reliever… you’ll just love it!”
And I was like, “Simone, you’re already depressed, and YOLO — why the heck not? Let’s try new things.” (yes, 1) I talk to myself and 2) I refer to myself in first person plural. Often.).
So off we went to hot yoga.
While I went to change, Maria set me up with a mat and two blocks (just like what I’ve seen on Instagram and the Cody app!! Maria is such a doll). The yoga studios at Movati are gorgeous. The room was gently warm and warmly lit with yoga music (??? like, the kind of music they play when you are getting a Swedish massage. I don’t know — spa music? It sounded like spa music) playing softly in the background. A sense of peace pervaded the air. Then came the first few poses.
I recognized many of the poses (again, I’m surrounded by yogis everywhere I go, and I pretty much live in a world drunk on yoga). So hearing “downward facing dog” or “cobra pose” wasn’t foreign to me (in fact, I often end my own workouts on the mat with a cobra pose — of course, the instructor was using the Hindu (?) names for all of these poses).
For the first part of the class, and partly because I was feeling a little awkward, I kept peeking out through the side of my eye to see what everyone else was doing (and of course to make sure I was doing the right thing). Then I finally relaxed and ended up closing my eyes more, and by the mid-point of class I was totally “zen”.
Then the girl beside me farted. In class. It was audible. It did not smell (praise God). It wasn’t loud enough for the whole class to notice, but it was loud enough for me to notice. I pretended like I heard nothing (which, by the way, is the same kindness I’d like extended to me if you ever hear me toot. Just so you know.) But honestly, hearing her fart was a relief. It reminded me that we are all human — as in, I’m not the only one who farts; we all fart. As my sister can attest, I have been known to fart in any position which involves my legs being spread apart… (not in that way guys. I know, reading that sounds… suggestive… but I don’t mean it like that). So to hear her fart felt like I also had permission to fart if ever the need arose. Luckily, for the sake of everyone around me, I did not pass gas.
That’s another thing I liked about the class. It was very body positive. The instructor gave varying options for each pose, and she always said to “respect our limits. Every body is made differently.” She also said that we are not aiming for perfection. “Yoga is not about perfection. It’s about your breath.” So instead of comparing myself to the uber flexible people around me, I just respected the extent to which I could do the poses, and appreciated my body for the strength and flexibility it could — it did — exhibit. In some poses I couldn’t extend my arm all the way back, or place my elbows on the ground and have my finger in “rose petal form.” But I’m proud of myself because I did all the poses, (sometimes with the aid of blocks, and that’s ok) and turns out I’m more limber than I ever imagined.
Hot yoga allows for the body to go into deeper stretches than if the body had been stretching at room temperature. Heat allows the body to stretch more easily and avoid injury. That’s why, at least in group exercise classes, we stretch at the end of the class when the muscles have been warmed up, the joints are lubricated and the body temperature has already been raised. The temperature helped with the poses, though it ended up making me sweat a lot. Luckily, I brought a towel, but I noticed that almost no one dabbed their face as much as I was dabbing my face. It seemed like everyone glistened with a steamy mist of sweat on their toned arms, while I silently melted (ok, slight exaggeration)
At the beginning of the class, I kept thinking, “When is this over?” Downward dog is hard. It’s not as easy as they make it look. It was hard to silence my mind at first. I felt a little awkward, and I felt uncomfortable. There was a lot to do mentally. I tried to focus on my breathing: “In, two, three, four. Hold. Out, two, three, four.” But then she’d guide us into another pose and I had to open my eyes to see what was going on and if I was doing it right and mind the positioning of my feet for warrior pose and then I’d be like, “Oh yeah — I’m supposed to relax and breathe.” Yeah, I’d forget to breathe. But once I finally started to get the hang of things and calm down, the tension and anxiety that I typically feel at the end of my day finally started to dissipate. In fact, my one consistent thought throughout class was, “Mmmm. That feels good. I need to relax more often. I’m too tightly wound. I need more of this in my life.”
My exercise routine includes Zumba (duh) and some strength training once or twice a week (calisthenics or a combination of free weights and machines). I’ve thought of diversifying my workout for a while, but I didn’t know what else to do that I would enjoy (key word is enjoy). Yoga would be a welcome addition. One of the recommendations in Dr. Sarah Gottfried’s book, The Hormone Cure, is that women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (like me) should incorporate mind-body exercises to help reduce stress. Dr. Gottfried writes, “Yoga was shown recently to be more effective than other forms of exercise at improving insulin resistance in PCOS.” While Zumba helps me with stress reduction, because it is high-intensity cardio, it is somewhat stress-inducing (the body interprets exercise as stress, but exercise is still helpful in reducing stress. Weird, I know). I can’t help but wonder if I included more mind-body exercises — not just yoga, but visualization, meditation — into my day, if that would help with the reduction of cortisol and anxiety and thus aid with weight loss. Something for me to think about.
I can now see why yoga appeals to so many people. I think we live in a post-Christian, very secular society (at least in the Western hemisphere). I can see how yoga can appeal to someone who wants some semblance of spirituality in their life, but can’t stomach Jesus (that’s not to say that people who can stomach Jesus don’t do yoga. But it is to imply that yoga is a perfect fit for those who are “spiritual but not religious”). You can get your spirituality fix in yoga and then go about your day.. Yoga provides that spiritual connection that all human beings need to be healthy (yes, I believe that to be a healthy human being, you need some sort of spiritual connection, some belief in something bigger than yourself — even if it’s not Jesus.). We also live in a society where we are so stressed. Stress is literally killing us. So I understand now why all of my lawyer friends (especially) are all, “I’m going to yoga tonight. Wanna come?” with their rolled up pastel purple and pink yoga mats slung over their shoulders, their tight pants and their hair in an even tighter ponytail. In some ways, we desperately need stress reducing exercises, like yoga. Arguably, we need yoga.
My favourite part of the class was towards the end when the instructor had us lie down on our mats in supine position, and asked for us to just breathe, “bringing yourself to that state just before falling asleep” while she dimmed the lights further. We must have been in this position for like ten minutes. My body was so happy. All I could think to myself was “Gosh, I really need more of this in my life.”
Back to the difficulty of the poses. They were hard. Yoga is not just about flexibility, as I had previously and erroneously believed. It is about strength. I have a new-found respect for people who do yoga. Some of these poses were hard to hold. Luckily for me, we only held each pose for like 10 seconds, but it felt like an eternity at first. The instructor said that the poses would get easier as we got stronger. I now understand how and why my friend was able to tone up and strengthen her triceps. I will now take several seats.
I think of the yoga instructors. This particular yoga instructor was excellent. It’s hard to be a yoga instructor. I also think of all of the plus-size yoga instructors who are breaking out onto the scene (Google them and follow them on IG: Jessamyn Stanley, Dana Falsetti, NappyBeautyLove, Valerie Sagun, and others). At first, I loved them simply because they were unabashedly plus-sized and they were teaching people to love their bodies. But now I realize that they deserve credit for their physical strength too. I see the poses they do on their Instagram page, and now I am more in awe. Don’t tell me that these women are not strong.
Now to the parts that I did not so much appreciate. There was one point in class where our instructor asked us to bring our hands together, and, if we wanted to, lean our heads back and place our hands with our thumbs and index fingers pointing towards our “third eye.” I was like “the hell?” I did it once but didn’t do it again. Then, at another point in the class, she mentioned that it’s okay if we feel out of sorts because of the full moon we’ve been having lately and how many of us may have been feeling weird over the past few weeks. She talked a lot about energy: “Turn your face to the wall and feel the positive energy you have now created.”
I don’t do astrology. I don’t read my horoscope. I know I’m an Aquarius but I put no energy or emphasis or place no belief in the stars, moon, and sun. And I don’t do “energy.” While I can appreciate that energy exists, and I often say that someone gave me a bad “vibe” or a good “vibe”, and I appreciate that some people are balls of energy and that when I have a Zumba class filled with people, I definitely can feel and I feed off of their “energy,” anything beyond that is “woo woo” to me. That’s why I don’t do acupuncture or Qi Gong. I leave “energy” alone.
Remember my boss who became a yogi and wanted to teach us? I told her I wasn’t comfortable with yoga because of the spiritual aspect. There are many people who will tell you that yoga is not “spiritual.” Even this yogi-boss said, “You don’t have to think about it that way.”
You don’t have to think about it that way? That’s another way of saying, I admit, you can think about it that way, but don’t.
Yoga is rooted in Hinduism (or Buddhism. One of them. It’s still spiritual). Yoga is a lifestyle. It’s a mindset. It’s a way of being. It’s not just about stretching. It’s not spiritually innocuous. There is a spiritual aspect to yoga. Even if someone teaches the most secular yoga class possible, arguably that’s not even yoga. That’s what doesn’t jive with me.
All that said though, would I go back? Probably. I have a new Aqua Zumba class on Thursdays at 5:30 pm at Movati Trainyards (shameless plug) and I could go to this class right after as a great way for me to unwind.
I don’t think I’ll ever start a yoga practice though. But this yoga class did remind me that I need to include more mind-body/stretching/flexibility/relaxation exercises into my fitness regimen. So from now on, I think I’ll try to do more visualization exercises and pilates each day to intentionally teach and help my body relax.
All in all, I’m glad my friend Maria dragged me to yoga.