Three Things Yoga Has Taught Me

I recently took a Yoga 101 class at a local yoga studio to refresh the little knowledge that I have about yoga. Many years ago during my second year of undergrad, I had to take an additional PE. I chose a yoga class because I had always heard it was helpful for stress, and I wanted to be more flexible. I was beyond stressed out and hardly did anything other than drive to campus, sit in class, work, and sleep. I thought it would be a positive change, so I nervously entered the studio on that first day and walked out thinking, “What did I get myself into?”

During that PE class, I was a little taken aback because I realized yoga was actually much harder than I thought. It wasn’t just sitting cross-legged and humming “oohhhmmm” for a while. The course was actually focused on Bikram yoga, which meant doing a lot of different poses in a pretty warm room and holding these poses for what seemed like an eternity. When you’re pouring sweat and doing challenging poses that make you use a lot of muscle groups, it is enough to make you a hot mess. The room had a wall of large mirrors, so it was a little awkward to not only see myself in these poses (I mean how could I NOT look at myself when I’m super self-conscious) but knowing other people could see me as well. Some people looked more natural at doing the poses, while I felt so uncomfortable.

I never knew if I was doing anything right during that PE class. Some poses, like Triangle Pose, were quite uncomfortable for me in a borderline painful way (I later found out in the Yoga 101 class about these amazing devices called yoga blocks that bring the floor to YOU, so you don’t have to be uncomfortable! Imagine that!). I noticed that no one ever asked questions (in my PE class), so I assumed asking questions was not allowed. The instructor was not mean, but she was not very approachable either. They say that you have to “fake it till you make it.” I sure did and felt more confused at the end of the semester than the beginning of the semester.

I never felt comfortable during that PE class, and I remember being annoyed because some of those poses were just downright hard. I am not the best at balancing, so Tree Pose and the Warrior III Pose were very difficult for me. I have always been a perfectionist, so I felt like a failure when I struggled with the balancing poses and decided that yoga was just something I was not good at and left it at that.

I didn’t do anymore (intentional) yoga for 11 years until this Yoga 101 class. I have been running off and on for about a year and a half now, and I realized that I was doing my body (and ultimately my running) a major disservice by not taking the time to stretch after my runs. I swear that I have attention span of a child, so it was always a struggle for me to stop, slow down, and focus on stretching. I wanted to go, go, go, go. I didn’t like to stretch because it was uncomfortable in the sense that I was working out aches and pains and probably knots, but running was taking a major toll on my body. It became painful to walk, sit, and stand. My lower back was aching, and my calves were tight. My glutes would have sharp pains that shot from my hips and down my legs. Sometimes, the inner muscles in my calves would hurt so bad I could hardly walk. I realized that if I was going to continue running, I had to force myself to stretch.

I saw on Facebook that this yoga studio was doing a class with yoga and wine tasting. It was something I could not turn down. It focused on restorative yoga, where you hold poses for several minutes. This is much easier said than done, especially when you are not already in the habit of stretching. There were times in that class where I struggled because the stretch was so intense, but I will always remember how good I felt after doing that class (and even better when I had some wine!). It got me thinking about yoga again. I decided that if I could incorporate restorative poses like that into my stretching routine after my runs and weight-lifting workouts, I would be set. I signed up for Yoga 101, and now I am a yoga fan.

I am still trying to figure out how to balance a marriage, a full-time career working 45 or so hours a week, a decent commute, part-time college classes, somewhat of a social life, and a full-time workout hobby with running and lifting weights while incorporating a full yoga session into my weekly routine. Maybe I will figure it out someday.

If you are unsure about trying yoga, I encourage you to go for it! The worst thing that can happen is you hate it, but I really feel that if you give it an honest shot, you will wonder how you have gotten by without it. I don’t consider myself an expert by any means, and there is so much to learn in the yoga world, but getting back into yoga has taught me 3 things:

  1. It is okay to be a beginner, and it isn’t a competition. Although this is not an entirely new lesson for me, I realized that the majority of people do not start doing yoga poses like an expert on Instagram. It isn’t about being better than the person beside you in class or if you look like the person doing the pose in that book or magazine—it’s about being the best that you can be in the moment, whatever that is. I do not see yoga as a competitive sport like running can be, and in a lot of ways, that is so refreshing! It is about being in the present moment, not worrying about the past or future, and allowing your body to do what it can in that moment. You may be able to do a pose just fine one day and really struggle the next. This is okay! It doesn’t mean you are bad. We all have “good” days and “bad” days. I have “good” runs, where it seems to be somewhat of a breeze and the minutes just fly by, and then there are the “bad” runs where I am so exhausted and just can’t seem to run in a straight line. (Well, to me they are “bad” runs if I don’t feel I improved from my last run, but that is just me being hard on myself.) I will compete with myself when it comes to running all day long (I personally don’t care for the competitive, interpersonal side of running, to be faster than someone else), but with yoga, I have found that I cannot have that mindset. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve and hold that Warrior III a little longer, but if it doesn’t happen, it isn’t the end of the world. The next time you do yoga is another opportunity to try again. If you are considering yoga, this is probably the most important piece of advice I can give, especially if you are in a yoga class: Do not compare yourself to someone else. You will become discouraged. Don’t do that.
  2. To get better, you have to practice. It’s like strengthening a muscle. It takes more than one set of 12 reps to build your biceps. Yoga is the same way. Some poses I can do well, and there are others I definitely need to work on. Like with anything, doing it more will make you better. If you’re not good at running, run more. If you’re not good at accounting (like me), then do more accounting (I would rather bang my head against the wall, to be honest). If you’re not good at yoga, guess what? DO MORE YOGA. I am preaching to the choir here…but I also believe in doing yoga RIGHT with any needed and safe modifications, so if you’re interested in learning about yoga poses, I recommend the book “YogaFit” by Beth Shaw. This is the book we used in the Yoga 101 class, and it is a fantastic guide. She breaks down poses and tells you exactly how to do them with pictures. If you’re going to spend time learning something, why not be the best you can be? Do it right, do it well, and do it with passion. Plus, getting hurt is not fun or allowed. Don’t do that.
  3. Yoga is a lifestyle, actually. There is a whole world out there in addition to just holding poses. It truly is a lifestyle if you decide to embrace it beyond just doing the poses. It can influence your diet to honesty in your deeds. It is so much more than holding poses. Take what you like and leave the rest.

 

The light in me sees the light in you, and I think it is awesome! Namaste.

 

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