I can’t remember the date I first tried yoga, but I do remember taking my first yoga class somewhere near Astor place in downtown Manhattan. Also of note were my dang cute newly acquired yoga threads. A few years ago when I first attempted to do yoga, I viewed yoga as a trendy fitness routine practiced by a “select few” granola chomping, vegetarian, health food store enthusiasts. Having once been a vegetarian, and back when I could afford it, a vegan and health food store enthusiast, I argued that all that was missing in my life was a little dash of yoga. Accordingly, I quickly went out and bought the most visibly appealing yoga outfit and Zen looking water bottle I could find to take with me to yoga class. All dressed up and ready to “ohm”” I walked into my very first yoga class believing that it was going to be a one hour journey into bliss and relaxation. In reality, it was a full-fledged workout with some “ohm” thrown on the side. All of the poses and stretches that I thought were gong to be easy as pie (non-dairy, gluten-free pie, of course) required coordination, focus, energy and stamina, all of which were powered from your breathing. Unlike the bliss and relaxation I was envisioning, the one that did not require any focus or effort on my part, the true bliss and relaxation that was to come from this class was to be achieved through careful and considerate attention to ones approach to the pose and their breath. Trust me, the tree pose isn’t as blissful or relaxing as it could potentially be when instead of focusing on your approach and breath into the pose, your mind is focused on how much sweat is accumulating on the yoga outfit you thought would still be in pristine shape by the time the class was over. Ironically, what I thought would be the focus of basically the whole class, mediation, was the most difficult for me to practice.
“Clear your mind, relax, and be in the moment,” my ethereal yoga teacher calmly said from the front of the room. With my legs crossed and my eyes closed, I was determined to do just that, clear my mind, relax and be in the moment. Nevermind that at that moment I was frustrated that I hadn’t nailed any of the poses and was upset that my new cute yoga outfit was sullied with sweat. Despite this angst, I felt prepared to relax, however, my mind had different plans. Like clockwork, my mind started bouncing from one thought to the next: “Okay, so we are supposed to sit here, clear our minds, relax and be in the moment.. got it. Is this starting now? This seems like it is going to take a long time, I hope not. How am I supposed to sit here with my eyes closed and be in the moment? What does being in the moment look like? Would it be considered cheating if I opened my eyes for a bit? Wow, everyone is sitting here with their eyes closed? Wonder if some people had their eyes opened before? I hope no one sees me sitting here with my eyes opened. I bet someone opens their eyes soon. I bet the women sitting across from me won’t open her eyes, she is like some sort of yogi. I wonder where she bought the top she is wearing… Ugh, I can’t stand that I seriously suck at yoga, what the hell. I need a latte and maybe some sushi. I’m thirsty. Seriously, how can these people stand sitting with their eyes closed so long? I feel like the yoga instructor can read my mind. Yoga instructor, if you are reading my mind, please stop quiet time now. I wonder what would happen if I jumped up and yelled “Boo.” Alright girl, you are getting silly, you need to close your eyes, hush up and be in the moment. This class needs to end now… I suck at this class…….” There was no shutting off my mind, and for years, there was no getting me back into a yoga class.
Now that I have settled into a cardio and strength training regimen, my lack of flexibility has become more pronounced and I believe is hindering what I have and can achieve in those fitness realms. A little bit older, wiser, and not wanting to sacrifice what I have gained fitness wise, I feel like now is the time to hitch another ride on the yoga wave, the hot yoga trail. Hot yoga runs through a series of poses in a heated room with temperatures close to 105 degrees. Arguably, the heated environment facilitates stretching, something this flexibility challenged gal is very interested in exploring. Thankfully, my gym offers hot yoga classes and I was happy to discover that one of my favorite instructors teaches several sessions at the gym. After running down a brief history of my failed past yoga life to my gym instructor, she stated that I needn’t worry about my lack of experience with yoga. People of all fitness and flexibility levels sign up to take hot yoga, and as with most other types of fitness classes, there are modifications participants can opt to take, along with sitting out certain poses. With that information in tow, I was off to buy suitable hot yoga clothing and a yoga mat. Additionally, I stopped eating 2 hours prior to taking the class and I made sure to drink tons of water prior to taking the class (and after the class).
Hot yoga is tough, but doable, especially when you are guided by a knowledgeable instructor who is there not only to cheer you on, but to make sure that you are performing the movements safely and at your level. This type of instruction and guidance is crucial for beginners and experts alike as our what our bodies can achieve tends to fluctuate from time to time. It should surprise no one that I didn’t nail every pose, I didn’t get all of the breathing cues, and my mind still raced when it was time to be silent. Moreover, the tendency to try to control what the outcome would be next time I attempted yoga was still alive and kicking. But what I eventually realized immediately following my second hot yoga class (I took another hot yoga class at a different gym location with a different instructor 2 days after my first class) is that what I most need to work on is the flexibility that comes with surrendering to the movements. The idea of surrendering to the movements is something that the instructor in my first hot yoga class stressed to me after class but I was too closed to absorb. The importance of my instructors words became real to me as my second hot yoga class started swinging into full gear. Neither the heat in the room nor the flexibility required to execute the poses matched the landmines I was inserting in my own path. The idea of surrendering is not an easy one for me to swallow, but interestingly, is one that I look forward to attempting. Perhaps the fact that I have experienced significant losses in such a short span of time, maybe that is what has prepared me to accept this challenge now. I don’t know. What I do know is that this road will not be easy, change is seldom easy, but usually always worth it.