I tried yoga for the first time 20 years ago, and my response was, “Meh.” At the time I was a Jazzercise instructor and very in to aerobics and weight training. If a workout wasn’t crazy intense, and if it didn’t leave me dripping in sweat, well, then, it didn’t seem like a workout at all. I liked to tell myself I worked out for my health, but, truth be told, having lost about 70 pounds the year before, I really worked out because I didn’t want to be fat again. I worked out like the Fat Mafia was out to get me, and if I didn’t work my ass off it would reclaim me as its own. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
At least that’s how I thought it would work. It didn’t occur to me that I should spend some time developing flexibility, or that it might do my mind some good to slow life down once in a while. Nope. I wanted to be thin, and I wanted to be muscular. Madonna wasn’t in to yoga yet, so there was no yoga-loving, kick-ass model to emulate. I sashayed my way back to the aerobics studio, never to be seen again in a yoga class until a month ago.
Why go back in after all those years? I am a much changed woman, and the time seemed right to try something new. First off, I am slightly broken. Yes, if I were a doll I’d be on the Island Of Misfit Toys.
After taking up running a few years ago, and competing in a couple of half marathons, my left ankle filed a statement along the lines of, “Knock it off. In cave man days you’d have been dead 5 years ago. I’m done.” Something like that.
So now I do what I can. I walk, I bike, and I still lift weights, but I have begun to recognize that perhaps I should work on my flexibility, which might come in handy in days to come so I can continue to do neat things like reach down and put on my own shoes, or zip my own dress. I also have a much more zen-like attitude these days, (the Dalai Lama and I are practically BFF’s.)
I thought yoga, with its focus on benefits to mind, body, and soul would be the ticket. I mean, at this point there is only so much I can do with my 50 year old ass, but my soul? Well, there’s a project that can be tackled.
My gym wisely offered an introduction to yoga class, because, as I’ve said in a previous post, trying a new thing is kind of scary. Lots of those feelings from 8th grade well up inside, like when you’re the new girl and you’re trying to figure out your place in the high school cafeteria. I don’t care as much as I used to – being 50 is pretty great that way – but still, it’s nice to have a bit of a clue what is expected before wandering in to an established group. Also, I was a little afraid the instructor would be a woman named Ingrid, who ate nothing but kale and whole wheat muffins, who wore clothes made only of hemp, who would lead us through poses only those who have circus-people ancestor DNA would ever be able to do.
Thankfully Ingrid must have been off that day, because in walked our instructor, Katy, all smiles and positivity. She had me at hello when she said yoga is all about listening to your body and just doing what you can in that moment. Excellent. (With a straight leg I can barely reach my knees, and I’m not even exaggerating, so it was good to know she was cool with that.) She walked us through a basic class, going slowly and explaining everything along the way. I liked it that whether or not I could do the poses properly, I wasn’t really bothering anyone. Everyone was on their own little mat, doing their own little thing. And yet I really did feel a sense of connectedness.
And I think it is that sense of connectedness more than anything else that has me looking forward to yoga each week. Well, that and the hope that someday I will be able to touch my toes, but mostly it’s the connectedness thing.
I am not a religious person. And yet I do have a strong sense that we are all in this together, that we affect each other’s lives, that our energies are indeed a force of nature. In the beginning of class Katy asks that we set our intentions for the day. Most days we just get up and get going, our intentions being to get things done, to check things off lists, to make our way in the world. It is rare that we pause and think “Where am I going? Are the things I’m checking off lists worth my focus? Do I like the person I present to the world as I make my way through it?” So I like the idea of pausing for a moment and giving conscious thought to “my intentions.” In class, we are also told we can send our intentions to others. And I like that idea as well. We open our heart to others. Yesterday, as a whole, we set our intentions on those families in Connecticut who have been shattered by tragedy. And in that moment I think we could all feel the energy of a nation grieving.
Having set our intentions we move through various poses. I am still trying to figure out exactly what those poses are supposed to look like, and whether or not I can get to a close proximate without falling off my little mat and on to someone else’s. So far, so good, although I am a bit wobbly. I have learned that yoga is indeed a workout. I am in the beginner class, so we don’t do the super challenging poses, and we don’t hold a pose for an inordinate amount of time. But I imagine people in the upper level classes are breaking a pretty good sweat, and I now understand why Madonna looks like she is so damn strong.
At the end of class we go in to a few moments of deep relaxation. Katy guides us through as we concentrate on our breath to relieve any tension remaining in our bodies and minds. And it is during this portion of the class where I have discovered that yoga makes me cry. Something about being still and quiet in communion with others, the only sound the whispered breaths in the air, the sense of oneness with the world. I thought in yoga you were supposed to get to a place of emptying your thoughts, and perhaps that is the intended goal, but thus far that hasn’t been my experience. My mind fills with thoughts of people I have loved and lost. I hear their laughs, smell their cologne, remember their words. And then I think of the people in my life now, and I am filled with gratitude. No one goes through life unscathed, I included, but I have been blessed with friends and loved ones who have supported me along the way. And it is during the quiet at the end of class when I can almost feel my heart fill up with love. And the tears spill.
Oh good lord. I just reread this. I sound like a combination of Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life shouting, “Clarence, I want to live!” and the Grinch when he hears the Whos down in Whoville singing and his heart grow 3x larger.
Suffice it to say I’m kind of digging yoga, and if you’re looking to try something new I highly recommend it. I mean, come on! It benefits your mind, body, AND soul!
***The amazing Katy Speegle Henderson, she of the smiles and positivity, is opening a brand spanking new yoga studio in the 2013 in Williamsburg, VA. Check out her very cool website here!!!