I’ve sort of skirted and flirted with yoga for years, decades even. I remember buying an instructional yoga book when I was a teenager and going through a relatively inactive period between quitting skating and discovering running. I was drawn to the poses, especially because they reminded me so much of skating moves, but I didn’t particularly want to learn how to do them. Because I’m an obsessive personality, self-learning opens a pandora’s box of perfectionism that ends up thwarting any progress and driving me insane.
I worked at a yoga store in 2011, and taking yoga classes and having a cursory knowledge of yoga in general was part of my job, so I invested a bit of time in developing a foundational practice. I enjoyed the catharsis and physical challenge of studio classes, but I never found one that spoke to me, maybe because of where I was in my life (obsessed with running, stressed out in public situations).
In my late twenties I participated in yoga through social media. It was a means to practice alone and with others in a way that was comfortable for me. I learned lots of smooth useful flows from Ann Mazur (aka Runners Love Yoga, @runnersloveyoga on Instagram). I highly recommend her as an educational resource, especially to runners who are either completely new to yoga or have experience and are looking for running/issue specific poses.
At the beginning of 2017, I started thinking about and treating my body with a respect and devotion I didn’t have before. I’m 31 and I’m finally conscious of aging, and the control I have over aging, between the strength I cultivate in my body and my mind. I want to be a full body athlete without an Achilles’ heel. I want to run a sub-19 5K, but not at the expense of being a weenie on the bench press or feeling immobile as a running trophy. In fact, what I’ve realized is that the path to the kind of running I want to accomplish involves less running and more of everything else: weight training, intentional cross-training, and lots of yoga.
I’ve been practicing yoga every single day in my home (and, now that the weather’s nice, in my front yard). I’ve increased my flexibility, especially in my hamstrings and back, and I am truly enjoying the ritual of throwing a record on and moving through the same poses day after day, seeing and feeling slow improvement over time. Also: my cats love it. As my friend Prudence aptly put it, cats love when their humans do yoga, because they think you’re “being a cat” with them.
I’m getting stronger. I’m now religious about strength training and yoga every damn day. Today, I can do 7 chin-ups. My arm muscles are visibly defined. I have baby biceps that are taking a very pleasing rounded shape, and vascularity in my shoulders. My at-home yoga practice includes planks and pushups and I can chaturanga until the cows come home, because my arms finally have good foundational strength.
But I realized the limitations of practicing yoga at home pretty quickly. Alone, I’m nervous and uninspired to challenge myself and it’s hard to get out of my head. So I decided to start going to a studio this week and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I began with a restorative Yoga for Healing class this past Tuesday. It was a very light physical practice and guided meditation. The teacher began the class by explaining its design for anyone in recovery from anything, which is everyone. She shared that she was inspired to teach it after her son died of a heroin overdose. I felt an immediate energetic connection with her. When she adjusted one of my poses, my face began to twitch uncontrollably. It was a powerful experience that reminded me why I’m doing yoga: I have so much I need to release.
After the Tuesday night class, I hit the gym, and instead of feeling more tired and drained, I was able to reach much higher heart rates more comfortably than usual. Challenging myself in a new way made my routine seem, well, more routine.
I decided to return to yoga class the next night. This particular instruction was a 75-minute Power Vinyasa flow I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to get through. It can be ungodly intimidating to plop yourself and your baggage down in a room full of half naked strangers who got there before you.
The class was hard. I sweat more than I have ever sweat in my life. You would have thought I’d fallen in a swimming pool, judging by how drenched I was, just 30 minutes into class. But I was able to keep up and leave my head enough to appreciate the strength of my breath
more than as much as the strength of my legs. I noticed that I’m comparatively better at some poses and worse at others. And I accepted that with out any little fear or condemnation. I had a few metaphysical experiences, unexplained warmth and tingling in areas of my body that need it. And I felt a sense of community I’ve been starved of for a long time.
Today, the day after, I am sore like you wouldn’t believe. Well, I can’t believe it. I’m sore in all the right places, too – the places I’ve been trying hard to target at the gym but haven’t really been able to hit. Not just the glute max, but also my elusive and atrophied glute med. I do up to 1,000 crunches a day and even my abs are sore in a new, deep, sincere way. I won’t be going to yoga class today, because I’m way too sore to sit in chair pose for even a second, but I will go to the gym to cross-train and lift and I’ll be back at yoga class tomorrow.
I’m excited about this. I’m serious about sticking to my in-class and at-home routine this summer. I truly cannot wait to see and feel the mindbody benefits I’ll harvest in the fall.
If you have any meaningful yoga experiences you’d like to share with me, please do!