It has been a SOLID month since I was able to get into a yoga studio. The withdrawal has been agonizing and my mat just seemed lonely sitting in the corner all these days. Well not anymore! Today was our big reunion and it was almost as glorious as a post-hurricane, sunshine day. Oh wait - today is one of those, too!
I can say that after a month there have been a few changes to the experience. I could almost hear the creaking as my body awkwardly hit that first serious downward dog. Somehow though by about 30 mins in, I was suddenly able to do a deeper forward bend than I even remember myself being capable of pre-month off.
There was a new pose today for me: Dolphin. I love the awkward head down/ass in the airness of this one. What I don’t love? The bruises on my elbows! Does this happen to anybody else? I saw elbows in the mirror post-shower and sure enough there are red dots prepping to bruise it up any minute now. This may not be a pose for me after all…
Either way I walked out of that studio wonderfully sweaty and with a big, stupid smile on my face. So good to be back!
If you’ve been to a few studio classes then you’ve probably seen this. You may have been one of those graceful people who can reverse a pose without crashing back to your mat. Or maybe you were like me and just watched in awe for that first month as the class was told to “flip your dog” or go into “wild thing.”
First of all I’d just like to say that those two names for poses are battling it out right now for “greatest yoga pose name ever.” Only problem for me is that getting from downward dog to wild thing would just make me look wildly uncoordinated. Until a couple weeks ago. I went for it. I trusted my leg and my wimpy wrists to support me all the way from being upside-down to downside-up. And it worked! Took a solid month of nerves, half-arsed attempts, and lots of falling. I think the trick to this is a few failures and a sudden burst of reckless confidence to make things happen in yoga. Not unlike making crow pose happen for my awesome .5 seconds. So to my friends tempted to give it up because sometimes these things seem impossible, well, give it another month, embrace that inner reckless abandon, and if it still just isn’t gonna happen I guess we’ll always have savasana. Ahhh sweet happy place.
But back to the matter at hand and my shameless love for my puppy, I give you proof that a downward dog and a Wild Thing can exist harmoniously:
A cat called Wild Thing and my dog, Tallulah (she’s laying down so I figure it counts as a downward dog).
Yes, holding the pose for .5 seconds counts!
Here’s how this happened: My wimpy self got through all of 3 real vinyasas from plank to upward dog when it was time for some serious modification. There’s no shame in knees/chest/chin, dammit! I’m not exactly one of those muscular people… my arms are more just a couple of sticks that happen to be attached to the rest of my body. Nothing exciting there. But of course I got caught.
Yoga teacher comes over and crouches down right next to me to start pushing me to trust my arms to do the actual flow into upward dog. I tried to make my excuses amid all the panting but chica wasn’t having it. So of course it just so happened that this was the moment she was going to tell the class to work its way into crow pose. So here she is DIRECTLY next to me - I felt obligated to do as I was told (she IS one of those muscular people…. it’s just wise to listen when the person telling you to do something can so obviously take you out).
The trick here is to look down and forward a bit. Shift weight forward on hands and bend elbows. Now it’s time for the serious part: while you’re doing all of this your toes should pretty much be under your butt. So you’re all crouchy and looking a bit like a deformed toad or something. Now set those knees on the backs of the sticks mentioned earlier and shift leg weight forward so suddenly the deformed toad is up on tiptoes. Slooooowly lifting one foot off the ground. Now sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowly lifting the other foot off the ground. NowIMMEDIATELYFALLbackdownontotoes! Phew! Done.
And there you have the most awesome moment of that day. I think is akin to the “small wins” people keep talking about at work. Although I have to say, I’m pretty sure my small win is way cooler than increasing revenues. Just nobody tell my boss…
The other night I rushed myself over to Garden State Yoga after work for my third class at the studio. The teacher began class with her own personal anecdote about acting on impulse and lacking patience. The idea of this being that while the ultimate goal is to be patient, it’s important to embrace a little impatience as part of who we are.
Yeah ok - I can get behind that. Her story was about rushing out to get hair extensions before her wedding…. a year ago I chopped all mine off and would pretty much give all of my earthly possessions to have it back. So yes, I definitely appreciated her story. But this is what I love about going to a studio. Every time I go I have the opportunity to meet new people and learn things about others that wouldn’t necessarily be shared out in the real world.
The day before I had rolled my mat out next to a guy who openly admitted he’d had an awful day. He was stressed, wasn’t happy with something that had happened at work, and had come to the yoga studio to sweat it out. I had known him for 30 seconds when he started telling me all this. That was the first incredible moment. The second came at the end of class. As we’re rolling up our mats I decided to check back in with him. The stress was completely gone from his face and there was this great, easy smile. He said he felt great and it was absolutely written all over him.
Clearly there is something to be said for the mind-body connection. The yoga glow is undeniable! I’m determined to better understand how this works and why. Although really I’d like to just keep calling it magic.
I’m ashamed to say that I’m your standard American consumer and I just can’t help myself when it comes to good gear. That said, I’m also extremely loyal to a brand when I like the products and the company’s ethics. So! I’m officially a Manduka-holic. I’m not ashamed and I refuse any step programs you might feel like suggesting. I’m hooked and I’m proud!
It all began with that momentous occasion when I purchased the PROlite at Jiva. I was sold on yoga and knew that this was going to be a major part of my day from here out. Investing in a good mat (like I mentioned before) was crucial to protect my shoddy knees and hip issues. Figure if you’re going to spend several hours atop this mat each week, it’s probably not a bad idea that it be worth that kind of attention. So ownership is perhaps a little more like obsession these days - if I could I would sleep on it…. I’ll report back if I ever do try that. I actually ended up not being able to take it with me over the 4th of July and felt like something was missing. This may not be healthy but man do I love my Manduka!
As for the other gear… practicing at home is going to be a necessity for financial reasons and once I’ve gained that confidence - it’s so on. Of course there are the initial costs of practicing at home, but once you’re all set with gear and a comfortable routine (or several) it’s worth it, right? That’s what I’m telling myself. Now while I prefer directly supporting company’s by buying through their websites, or supporting a yoga studio with shop purchases, there’s just no way I can afford full-priced Manduka gear (sorry Manduka people!). Amazon it is for now and maybe someday I’ll be able to shop from the source.
So I’m all set with my pimp PROlite, my beautiful bolster, a very handy/sturdy cork block, and a strap because I’m just not that bendy yet. Now here’s where the past meets the present: Mexicali Blues. That there blanket you see below has been in my life for about 10 years now and I’m convinced there’s “happy magic” in it. It has been the location of some of the best conversations and beach days I’ve ever had and has been shared as a spot to relax with some of the most important people in my life. It’s only appropriate that it’s now a part of my yoga practice.
So after all these wonderful “glowing” reviews of yoga experiences thus far, I’m very sad to report that there was a dark, negative, infuriating yoga experience. Yep. I left that room angry! I was visiting a friend in the city and his gym is one of those fancy places with all kinds of class offerings and notable teachers. He had a free pass and as you saw from my last post, I need free these days.
Here’s the scene: yoga teacher comes in late and stomps up to the front of the room. He then sits down at the front without saying a word and throws out a quick Om for good measure. The rest of the class (all 10 people… can see why he isn’t drawing a crowd already…) just sort of jump in once they realize what’s going on. Then it’s immediately into the most random sequencing of postures with a few vinyasas thrown in. I’d like to point out that this was a VINYASA class. To make matters worse for me the newbie, he wasn’t explaining how to get into the postures or even what they were. I can appreciate that he might have a group of regulars there but isn’t it just common courtesy to explain what a posture is or how to get there? So there were a few that I simply had not seen before and obviously had never done before. This is where the real fun began. I attempted to look for a person who clearly knew what this guy was talking about so that I might copy. Problem being that I couldn’t see foot placement from where I was and pretty much had to invent my own variation. Busted. Mr. “I’m too busy and important for this” comes over to me and starts manhandling my legs and arms into this position that I wasn’t even ready for. AND IT GOT WORSE!
Reverse triangle is my nemesis. I have a spine shaped more like an upside-down question mark. Think Forest Gump but nowhere near that severe. Needless to say my reverse triangle on one side looks more like I’m trying to touch a wall than the ceiling. It ain’t pretty. Well that just wasn’t good enough - again with the pushing and shoving until my protests were taken seriously. It was too late - dude had managed to injure my side and left me uncomfortable for about 3 days. But back to what else was going on in this room….
Amidst all his little condescending remarks about how “Rome wasn’t built in a day” (it’s a perfectly reasonably statement but tone tends to alter how well it’s received) I survived the rest of the class. Finally. My happy place: Savasana. Nope! We get situated, my side is starting to ease up a bit now that I’m not moving and my mind is slowly emptying of all these angry thoughts and visions of dropping a cork block on this guy’s head. So obviously this is the perfect moment for him to stomp his way through the middle of the room, leave, and slam the door behind. I wish this were a joke. It actually was pretty comical when he made his way back into the room with the same vigor and then acted as though we’d all be so deep in Savasana still that we’d have to “slowly awaken limbs” to get out. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Now that my rant is done I want to point out that the goal here is to be centered, open-minded, and a healthier, happier person. This was a setback. I promise that during the class and even after the first few upsets I was still trying to keep an open mind and just be happy to be there. It didn’t work. I still very much want to drop a cork block on this guy’s head.
I want to preface this with the fact that I am a student. Not only am I a student, but I’m a student who had been laid off of her job about 6 months prior to taking on a mountain of debt. Although seriously, even if I weren’t totally broke, it would be tough for this habit to be sustained with your typical job. So now that I have that off my chest… let’s chat costs.
Being a yoga-holic is all about perspective. This is a lifetime experience I have in mind and that’s going to require a few up-front costs on both the gear as well as finding the right studio. So! What I’ve found is that most every yoga studio has an introductory package at a reduced cost. For me this has been an absolute life saver. In Hilton Head, I fell madly in love with Jiva and have been recommending it/plan to go back there every time I go home. Now that I’m living in New Jersey I have so many options and really don’t know where to start. Apparently people have a lot more money up here too! So far I’ve tried two different studios - one of them being my first attempt at Bikram. HUGE disaster. We’ll get to that later in more detail. And honestly? I miss Jiva! Like a lot. The closest yoga studio to where I am does a less vigorous Vinyasa but the room isn’t heated and (shocker of all shockers) I really think I prefer coming out looking like I fell in a pool. Weird - I know. That’s essentially what lead to the Bikram attempt….
My big takeaway has formed into more of a plan now. I’ve tried home practice but I can’t seem to quiet my mind. I get too caught up in thinking of what to do next or how long to hold a pose. For now I think it’s important to make the studio a part of my routine until I learn enough of the postures and their variations to create a more natural flow. Yoga DVDs just aren’t cutting it but I guess they work in the meantime. Yoga Journal also has a great resource on its website here.
Try lots and lots of different styles of yoga of course! After those first few consecutive Vinyasa, pardon me, heated Vinyasa classes I was ready for something a little gentler. My knees and hips had been bothering me after class, and while the cheap mat may have been a little bit to blame, I was worried I was over extending on warrior poses or something. I wanted to focus on alignment and see that I wasn’t my own warrior’s worst enemy.
Iyengar yoga, from what I’ve read and seen, focuses a lot more on being sure your body is aligned properly and holds poses for a longer period of time. Props tend to make a big appearance with this style and it was definitely welcome. Here’s the problem - the emotional/meditative benefits of yoga are intended to be one in the same with the physical and that’s essentially what has attracted me to practicing in the first place. So while I absolutely needed a slower alignment class mixed in with the Vinyasa classes, I didn’t leave feeling all glowy like before. So I think we can scratch this style off the list as the “go-to” style, but it has definitely worked its way into my heart.
One thing I really did take away from this class is a love of props and restorative poses. Rebecca Pacheco of Om Gal posted this amazing video that officially sold me on the bolster and helped me take my new prop love home with me. Taking everything else I’ve learned home with me is proving to be yet another challenge. But I am going to try. Otherwise I’m going to need a separate job just to fund this yoga habit. We’ll get to that in another post…
I’ve had the chance to strike up conversations with mat neighbors and they all seem to be so excited to share their OMG moments with a newbie. The one we keep coming back to is that moment when a couple yoga classes turned into a routine part of the day and then became more of a lifestyle than an exercise.
Let me just say that it only takes a couple of incredible classes with inspiring teachers for this OMG moment to happen. Granted I still have nerves every time I try a new class. I officially know from my relatively few experiences that the way you feel leaving the studio is absolutely worth a few nerves when you’re heading in.
So yeah, my first few weeks of classes had me maxing out at around 85% of the postures… but keep in mind I started somewhere around 70% and even that made me feel awesome. That first week of yoga was rough - ego thing, remember? - but at a month in I’m noticing amazing things! My forward bend looks ever-so-slightly less like an upside-down V, my legs are getting noticeably stronger, and (more importantly) yoga has absolutely worked its way into my every day.
There are, of course, a couple caveats. In the interest of full disclosure for my fellow newbies I figured I should share:
1) If you’re a weakling like me, you will have sore muscles the next day. I promise they’ll ease up if you head straight back into that studio and go again.
2) You might find tender spots (I have knee issues… yay) after a few classes. Be sure to tell the instructor and they’ll be able to keep an eye on you during certain postures and make sure you aren’t over-extending or they can give you some variations to make the posture more comfortable. (Yes - yoga teachers are, by nature, amazingly helpful and nurturing people for the most part.)
3) A good mat is $$$ but worth it. I think it was my third or fourth visit to Jiva Yoga when I realized that the $6.00 mat was part of the reason I was having such severe knee issues (at 27? come ON!). I knew that if this was going to be something I’d be spending a lot of time using that it would make sense for it to be more of a mat solution than a problem.
Proof that my mat has now become a huge part of my day, I don’t even bother rolling it up after I hose it down post-practice. It pretty much just lives on the floor for whenever I’m in the mood to do a quick Sun Salutation:
(Just love that chic hotel carpet pattern!)
Ok, where were we….? Oh right! Yoga studio, nervous, first time, no shoes. Got it. Now picture this: total novice wearing TJ Maxx’s finest, carrying a $6.00 clearance yoga mat, and a hand towel “just in case.”
I was about to get schooled.
The class that I was walking into was Vinyasa Flow. I had no idea what that was and zero idea that “warm” room was more of a relative term. It’s also key to note here that this class moves fast. Newbies be warned! So there I am on the world’s flimsiest yoga mat and at first it was fine. Downward dog: check. Plank: check. Upward dog: huh? So already I was looking around a little lost and attempting to interpret all those token yoga sayings like “open your chest” and “lower your shoulders.” Luckily there was a girl on the mat next to me who was not only doing the postures with the rest of the class, but doing them at a level so far beyond anything I thought humanly possible. Thanks to her I was able to sneak a quick visual every now and again so that I would understand the posture. At the same time I was really seeing just how beautiful some of these yoga postures are.
I’m going to attempt to describe what this girl was capable of doing, but you pretty much have to experience this for yourself. There two token ways to get from a downward dog to any kind of forward bend position at the top of the mat (that I’ve experienced so far): walk your feet forward or hop them up. Except this girl didn’t hop, she floated her way to the top of the mat. This is example one.
Now from that first “huh??” moment onward I was able to follow relatively well. But then came some of the more…. let’s call them creative… postures that never showed up on my DVDs or at the gym classes. We were told to place our weight on our hands and hop one leg up in a way that would carry the other with it; kind of like a pseudo-handstand position. I’m not anywhere near handstands yet, nor do I have very strong wrists and arms. For me that moment of “oh my god I’m awesome!” happened when I was able to simply get both feet off the mat for more than a millisecond. So now I’m feeling pretty good when I notice from the corner of my eye that my yogini neighbor is not only lifting both feet off the mat, but this girl is so elegantly floating her legs up and staying there that it almost looks like she’s about to levitate! People - we could someday be able to do this!
I know you’re not supposed to watch neighbors and that you need to be in your own body and in your own practice, but seeing some of the things that are possible only made me want to show up for more classes. That combined with the heat in that room causing me to sweat out all those nasty toxins and I left feeling like a whole new person. Or maybe it was Savasana at the end of class. So really I’m not sure what it was that caused me to leave feeling so incredible. Another yoga mystery to be solved!