I’ve never been much into mysticism. Meditation and the third eye are fine things… for other people. As for me, my brain is rooted in a world of practicality. I blame my Republican upbringing and excellent grasp of reality.

Still, I keep hearing all these amazing things about yoga. A former co-worker used to tell me how not only was it making her stronger, but she left classes feeling centered and at one with her world. I have plenty of friends on various ranges of what I call “The Hippy Dippy scale” that like yoga. Really, I never heard a negative remark about it. Since I too wanted to get my metaphorical shit together and become more fit, I made a half-hearted decision to try yoga some time without any real plan of follow through.

So far, California is my new world without excuses. While perusing the free fitness classes that my university provides, I saw yoga as an option. I should do that, I thought but didn’t get serious about attending until one of my friends in the MFA program said that she goes 3 days a week in the afternoon. With her encouragement, I went to my first class the other day.

When I think of yoga, I think of salt lamps and humid classrooms with new age music and soft lighting. That might help the third eye, but my two (real) ones were happy to see a normal looking fitness room at a normal looking gym filled with normal looking people. A wide variety of folks showed up to the class, from potentially meditative geniuses to giggling undergrads — all with various fitness levels. I was instantly comfortable with the crowd, and felt confident nobody was going to lecture me about the health benefits of kambucha after class.

The instructor herself was this tiny old woman with a patient, encouraging voice.

“There’s lots of incredible moves you can do from this position,” she’d coo as we all tried to hold a proper downward dog with shaking muscles. “You won’t be able to do any of that today, but stick with me and eventually you can.”

I liked the instructor, because she added as much encouragement as she did reminders for us to relax our shoulders and keep our lines straight. Encouragement is something I need when my flabby ass is precariously extended in the air towards a line of incredibly fit undergraduate students.

Yoga itself was far harder than I imagined it would be. The mental images I had of people sitting down, waving their arms around and humming “Ommmmm” were better suited in a mix of meditation and modern dance. In actuality, the positions we did in the class made me strain and tremble as sweat dripped down the back of my neck. I wasn’t the only one struggling. Even though my eyes were glued forward trying to watch the instructor to figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing, I could hear periodic grunts across the room. It was hard for everyone — even the buff people.

Somewhere between planking and doing this hip flexor balancing exercise that she called “doggy peeing”, my third eye thought it might vomit. This wasn’t the heart pounding, terrible cardio of the fitness classes of my past… but it was just as hard. Balancing on one knee and one hand with your appendages struck straight out is harder than one might think.

At the end of the class, she had us lay down on the mat and concentrate on having each vertebrae of our spine touch the floor — deceivingly hard to do. As I tried to take my third eye and melt into the mat, the instructor started dipping into more meditation as the class winded down. For the first time in the hour, I shut my eyes. Every muscle in my body was yelling at me, but I breathed slowly and listened to her speak.

“I want you to think about something negative that’s occupying space in your brain.”

I couldn’t think of anything, even though I knew my brain was brimming with negativity.

“Maybe it was something you said to someone that you didn’t mean to, and it hurt their feelings.”

Immediately I thought about a comment I muttered in haste at a writing happy hour. Something that wasn’t merited, and wasn’t fair to a person near me who had been extremely kind to me more than once. I had been worrying since if they heard me or not.

“Take that negative thought, and push it out of your brain. Take it in a row boat in the ocean, and push it away into the sea. Watch it drift farther, and farther, and farther away until it’s almost gone. Take that thought, and tell it ‘I release you!’ Now it’s gone forever, out into the ocean.”

I sighed. The thought was not gone, and I was not in a boat. I smushed my spine back down on the mat. It had crept back up, like so many other things.

“Don’t focus on the negativity, but focus on the gifts. My gift is this breath, and I appreciate every one I get to take.”

I started to wonder if she appreciated breath more than me, because she had a lot fewer left.

“Now think of a person who is a source of positivity – either living or dead.”

Then I remembered. Nobody knows how many breaths we have left.

“Think of this person, and all that they did for you. Think of the times they encouraged you. Accepted you.”

I breathed faster.

“Think of everything they gave to you, and collect it together into the core of your body. Hold it there, and keep it. Keep it in a ball of light.”

I wanted to open my eyes, but I squeezed and forced them to say shut.

“Think of that person, and say thank you. Thank you for all you have given me. Thank you for everything I keep from you.”

I started to cry.

The tears slid down my cheeks, salty from sweat. I kept my eyes shut, and lie still on the mat. The only movement I made was occasionally tilting my pelvis back down to keep my spine flat on the ground.

And I was thankful. Am, really. Thankful, and very tired. Thankful, and sore the next day. Thankful, and a little bit hippy dippy.

16 COMMENTS

  1. LOL I don’t know why you had that image of Yoga in your head. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a class with soft lighting and a lot of Ommm-ing. To be fair I go more towards the extreme, I really like Bikram Yoga (and I do Hot Barre now) get your sweat on! And yay it’s always fun to try new things.

  2. I think that’s a totally fair image to have if you’ve never done yoga before. I know I never thought it would be my cup of tea until I found the right place. I miss going and need to find a studio here in Indy again. It has a similar effect to riding for me – all the stress and anxiety in my life ceases to exist for that hour or so. Plus, you know, physical benefits and all. Good stuff.

  3. I think it’s so fitting to try yoga as you’re now in CA. It seems like something CA peeps should all be doing. I go maybe once a month. I’d like to go more. I am not at all hippy dippy and just like the stretching. And it’s so weird that it’s just so hard! I look at the people in my class and imagine they were ballet dancers or former Cirque du Soleil performers. Then I see people who look pretty buff teetering around on two limbs and I feel better about myself. For some weird reason, I always feel taller when I leave a yoga class.

  4. Yoga is really about pushing mind and body into a better place. I took it in HS as the “easy PE” and quickly learned the truth. And I have cried in yoga as it brought up all sorts of crazy underlying emotions i didnt know were boiling right below my surface. So you are not alone 😉

  5. I’m in the middle of a 3 week daily yoga class and they are legit workouts! Kombucha is nasty, don’t let anyone make you feel bad for being smart enough not to indulge. Awesome your school has free classes.

  6. Loved this piece.

    I took a yoga class in college. The biggest, lasting take-away for me was learning to be present. I forget all the time, but I usually remember and am happier for it. I believe that most of us spend so much of our lives trying to distract ourselves (or our children) rather than spend our time living it or trying to improve our circumstances.

  7. I used to have weirded out hippy dippy thoughts of yoga too. Until I caught an episode of Inhale on TV one morning. Thankfully (!) someone has uploaded some 40+ episodes of Steve Ross on YouTube. His version is a little different style- music with lyrics and a beat, he cracks jokes and not everyone in the studio can twist their bodies into pretzel shapes. Yeah I’m not there and it’s a long way off for me.

    One thing that has been a take away is being able to stop and breathe when things get stressful. Focus on your breathing and re-center yourself. You can do it any time, any place, anywhere. I also find myself doing some of the upper body stuff in the saddle to unlock my shoulders and neck. Benificial in a number of ways and yes it does kick your ass at times. But in a good way! lol

  8. I’ve tried yoga in the past, and recently went to a class at the gym I’ve been going to. I really liked the poses — they’re challenging in a different way than cardio or weight lifting. It’s the meditation part I really struggle with. As soon as someone says “relax” that’s the last thing I seem to be able to do!

  9. The hubs and I do yoga sculpt and vomiting is something I contemplate every class… so damn hard. We did dolphin pose and I fell. I started chuckling and the instruct walked over and said “are you okay?” I replied “yes, just perfecting dead dolphin pose”. Good for you… there is so much good in yoga.

  10. Yoga is such a nice-sounding name for something that will kick your ass and take no prisoners. Seriously hard stuff, but I really like how much more in tune with your body you are able to be. And much less creaky and tight, that’s good too.

  11. I started taking yoga classes a few months ago, and I really enjoy it. I had no idea how hard it would be, but it’s a nice hard. Not torturous like running! I’ve found it helps my riding a ton too. All those hip stretches really help me park my butt in the saddle at the canter!

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