For years, yoga simply wasn’t for me. Slow movements, holding poses, just breathing….for a girl who grew up playing softball and running, a class where you stretched slowly while inhaling and exhaling seemed weird to me. And boring.
However, as an undergrad at OSU, I found I needed another couple credits to fulfill my Tuesday/Thursday class schedule. And yoga was the only thing offered that fit the bill. Half of the class was made up of women looking to get fit, or, like me, realize their two-day-a-week course load dream. The other half was made up of football players. For anyone not familiar with Big Ten football, they grow those guys pretty big out in Ohio.
Thus the scene played out: For an hour, a bunch of petite women and an equal number of muscle-bound men would stretch and OM and eventually fall asleep next to each other for the final savasana. It must have been a thing to see, so many giants snoring away surrounded by a field of lithe ladies. By the middle of the quarter, yoga class had become nothing more than glorified naptime. I stopped going shortly thereafter, figuring I could sleep in and have my own savasana in my bed.
After I moved to New York for graduate school and somehow, some way, managed to scrape together a couple nickels to join a gym, my friend and I went to a yoga class. I hadn’t been since college when I slept beside giants, but it was a new gym membership and I was game to try anything.
Fifteen minutes into my first class, I attempted to contort my legs and arms—as malleable as tent poles—into what my body, given the unidentifiable cracks and shooting pains, deemed impossible positions. Then there was the shoulder stand, which everyone did by effortlessly elevating their legs above their heads and lifting their light-as-air torsos to stand on their shoulders.
After several attempts to heave the lower half of my body up, up good god go UP, after I’d painstakingly propped my butt and torso higher than I ever thought possible, after I’d exhaled a Christ-on-a-crutch-why-in-the-world-would-anyone-do-this? breath, my shirt slid down, exposing my stomach…My floppy-skinned, toneless, pasty stomach—a stomach that bore an eerie resemblance to my cat’s after she’d been neutered. Horrified, my entire body flopped unceremoniously to the mat as the instructor, a leotarded woman with a taut face and a long, tightly braided rope of dark hair running down the middle of her back like some serene kumbaya anchor said (most pointedly in the direction of my yoga mat), “If this position is not available to anyone, please feel free to enjoy child’s pose.”
Suffice it to say, I spent the rest of the class in child’s pose, as the remainder of the positions were unavailable to me. That was my last class for years. I didn’t care. I was a runner, after all. I’d been a runner since the sixth grade. I’ve completed two New York marathons, run I don’t know how many half marathons and gone on countless long runs that make a half marathon feel like a warm up. What the hell did I need yoga for? Answer: I didn’t.
That is, until I got older and my hamstrings staged a revolt on my body. Those grumpy, muscled generals enlisted my knees in the fight along with my beleaguered IT bands. Right around the time when I was seriously outnumbered in the fight, I went to a Bikram yoga class. It was insanely difficult—on par with a long run. It was an ugly, brutal, break-you-down-to-your-core kind of class, not like those pristine yoga classes where hair is rarely mussed and sweat never breaks out. A Bikram yoga class is akin to war, at least that’s how I looked at it at first. I kept going back—for the sweat and the stretch, but mostly for the muscular challenge of it all.
Then I broke through and found the serene, mind-calming rationale for going. The cobweb-clearing, spirit-affirming underpinning of the whole practice. The emotional and spiritual aspects, combined with the physical difficulty, was the exact balance that I needed in my yoga. That’s right my yoga. I no longer sleep through or give up on or outright mock yoga, because I’ve found a technique that works for me. And anything that makes me feel like I’ve run 15 or 16 miles without the pain and injury associated with actually logging those miles, well, it’s worth sticking with.
Turns out, not only is yoga for me, I actually need it.