• Fri, Apr 6 2012

How I Learned To Love Yoga

For most of my life, I’ve been a gym-goer. I’ve had a membership to a Gold’s or a Crunch or a 24 Hour ever since I was 15. In that time, I learned to master the cardio kickbox, the step class, the bootcamp.

But the one fitness class I could never get down with was yoga. The first few times that I tried it, I was bored out of my mind. The poses were at once extremely difficult and extremely mind-numbing (how can that be? I wondered) and the practice always seemed to involve standing still in one place for far longer than I felt could possibly be beneficial to your health.

The only thing that I really liked about yoga was that certain studios served spa water after class.

Needless to say, I counted myself among the clever few who had secretly figured out that yoga was stupid. I would stick with the gym, thank you very much.

These feelings stayed with me for some time. But soon, something happened that began to change them: I started getting work writing about health. And the more I wrote about things that are good for you, the more I found myself writing about yoga. The practice, it seemed, was like some sort of multipurpose magic trick. It eased the minds of people with anxiety and depression. Professional athletes like football players and ballerinas did it to stay in shape. Cancer survivors benefited from yoga. So did preggos, and the elderly. Creative types even did it to get the juices flowing.

Maybe, I began to think, I should give it another try.

The idea took some time to sink in. After all, my previous experiences spoke for themselves, and not every studio served spa water.

But pretty soon I decided to go to another class.

And sure enough, it was horrible. I was full of ennui and stress, the poses were too difficult (and boring, it can’t be said too many times) and to make matters worse the teacher had giant fake boobs and seemed primarily interested in doing poses that showed them to greatest effect.

But somehow, when I left, I felt kind of different. Instead of writing yoga off again, I decided to give it another chance. After all, part of the reason that the class sucked so much was because I sucked at the class. Maybe a different class — I don’t know, an easier one? — would introduce me to these elusive yet myriad benefits.

So I found a different studio, and I signed up for a beginner’s course. It was uber, super beginner. Poses took several minutes to get into and out of. Each muscle was identified, tweaked and repositioned until it was correct. My brain was involved. My body was involved. I was sweating, for the love of Christ.

I stayed in the easy section for months and months. Every class made me feel like I was discovering some tiny new movement that perhaps I hadn’t been capable of before, or at least that I would certainly never have thought to try. More and more, I found that I looked forward to going.

Soon enough, the class became about more than just bending over back and forth, quaking on my legs and trying repeatedly (and generally unsuccessfully) to reach my toes. The poses soon became more comfortable, more reliable. My muscles slowly got stronger, and my movements more deliberate. Yoga actually became something personal, kind of like writing, in which I actually got to learn new things about myself.

It’s now been about two years since my for reals foray into yoga, but it wasn’t until I went back to a gym-like class that I realized how much my mindset had changed.

You’re familiar with something called the Barre Method? It’s a class that mimics ballet, only you don’t leave with any new skills. It’s the type of class I might once have adored for it’s utter devotion to fat-annihilating.

So I went to a Barre Method class. For an hour, a small, be-ponytailed girl squeaked angrily about how my ass needed to be rounder, my arms needed to be smaller and my belly needed to be sucked in. I hated her. I hated the class. But most of all, I felt inklings of beginning to hate myself.

At that point, I decided for the first time in my life that if I’m going to spend an hour doing something physical, I’m not simultaneously going to waste brainpower fostering either self-loathing or adrenaline-induced bravado. I’d prefer to spend an hour and a half learning to like myself.

And that’s what happens in yoga.

Plus, my glutes are getting tighter.

Boom.

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  • Marissa

    Thanks for sharing! You described your relationship with yoga so well. I agree…it’s very much like writing because it always requires constant improvement and tweaking, and you always find yourself learning something.

    • Jessica Pauline Ogilvie

      Thanks! I was also surprised by how much more I enjoyed actually using my head while exercising instead of just counting the minutes till class was over.

  • Emily

    Hm – my Bar Method experience is almost exactly the same as the one you described with yoga. I can feel myself getting stronger, I’m more flexible, and I enjoy settling into a groove where I feel like I’m in control of my body. I’m not particularly sure how yoga introduces you to new skills, either.

    Perhaps it’s a teacher difference.

  • Tina

    If you ever got into pilates before trying out yoga, you would not have found that true. Pilates engages the mind, and features accessible moves and imagery (guidance) that is far from mindless. Yoga is to some degree about spiritual self-mortification through the body–generating tapas (heat) – SOME styles of yoga, anyway: that is where the pain comes in.

    I personally nearly gave up on yoga after years. Although when I do yoga a prefer the middle-path approach (more Buddhist) rather than seeking your edge.

    I integrated conscious dance back into my practice rotations. And never left pilates.

    And I was lucky. My first two mat pilates teachers really “spoke to me” …