For the first 33 years of my life, I steadfastly refused to try yoga. At first, it was because I refused to try anything that fell under the umbrella of general health or fitness. Thankfully that phase of my life ended after my first 29 years. Then, I had an enlightenment and realized that I’d probably die soon if I didn’t start exercising. I didn’t realize this horrifying fact from any article or person, but I think that as a 30 year old I just realized that I wasn’t filled with the youthful exuberance that had fueled marathon sessions of watching Real World marathons on MTV.
My impending death got me off the couch, but I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I started running because I was deathly afraid of embarrassing myself at the gym. Years of inactivity meant that I had no idea what to do. I was fat-ish, weak, lazy, and sweat like . . . hmmm. I tried to come up with a good analogy here, but I’ve never seen anything else in the world that sweats as furiously and vigorously as I do, so let’s just agree that I sweat a lot.
At first, I was a timid runner. I’d hide out on the treadmills in the back corner of the gym. I’d run a quarter mile then walk a quarter mile. I’d set my speed to 4.6 so I could dust the 94 year old woman on the treadmill next to me. But over time, my confidence grew and I started to fancy myself a runner. It defined me to some extent, and it made me look incredibly cool:
Over time, running morphed into a more general sense of fitness. I even lifted weights a couple of times. Periodically, I’d walk past the room with the people doing yoga – mostly women, mostly wearing lululemon, mostly incredibly limber. On one hand, I was skeptical and judgmental. I mean, come on, they were lying on the floor half the time. The other half, I’d peer in and they’d basically be standing still. It looked like a joke. On the other hand, they were basically jacked. It wasn’t for me, though, I couldn’t even touch my toes.
Another year passed, and then one day just before my 34th birthday a muscle in my back popped. Exploded would be a more apt description actually. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was literally paralyzed for years and years. When I saw the doctor a few days later, he said that the injury was because my core wasn’t strong enough and that I should try yoga. I laughed. Yeah, okay bro. Have you seen me? I’m a runner:
The next week, I begrudgingly went to yoga class. Immediate obsession. Here are ten things I learned from my year of yoga:
1. Yoga is really really hard
When you walk past a room full of people and they’re sitting around gently reaching their outstretched arms to one side or the other, it looks really easy. But when I tried it, I was sweating before the class even started. (I know that’s not saying much, but if you don’t like Bikram Yoga, then you really should never attend a class with me. I’m essentially an oversized space heater). A year in, I continue to find every class I attend constantly challenging to me. My arms burn when the class is over. Sitting is hard. Standing is hard. Balancing is hard. Relaxing is hard. Yoga makes everything f*$king hard.
2. But yoga is also really really easy
Because no matter how many classes I’ve taken, no teacher ever pushes you beyond your limit. If you feel tired, they tell you how to rest. If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you take a break. If you can’t touch your toes, you don’t have to. Just get as close as you can. If you can’t balance on your head, don’t even try until you’re ready. Despite what it looks like from the outside, it’s a very inviting environment, and being cool with what you’ve got makes it much easier and less intimidating than it initially seems.
3. The “spiritual” BS is kind of nice.
At first, I loathed all the omms or taking an inventory of my inner self. I was Mr. Cynical about getting in touch with my mind. Then one day I realized it wasn’t so bad. I was more confident. I felt taller. So a little spirituality won’t kill you, and you might just end up liking it.
4. There’s a class for everyone, you just have to find it.
I’ve taken a lot of classes. If you hate a teacher though, you don’t have to go back. There’s something for everyone. And even though I’ve gotten to a point where I’m okay with a little of the spiritual BS, it’s still not my favorite, so I’ve clung to teachers that were more dude-centric and allow for a little more normalcy in the class. My current favorite is YoJo with Anne’s old trainer, Jessa (her website is under construction, I think). I like it so much, I made a video about it:
5. No one really cares what you do.
Maybe everyone is looking at me all the time and judging me for the sweat dripping from my face onto the communal mat that I put back on the shelf after class. Maybe they laugh when I fall down. Maybe they are disgusted when a little bit of my ass hangs out when I do a forward fold. Maybe they avoid danger zones. But if they do, I’m not aware of it. Hell, the instructors sometimes even do something I wouldn’t even do – they put their hand on my sopping sweaty shirt to make an adjustment during class. Sure, they immediately regret doing so, but it’s the thought that counts.
6. If you work at it, you can do cool stuff.
Now, I can totally do a handstand. Suck it, haters.
7. You start to get muscles in weird places.
For me, it’s been my arms and my abs. Who knew?
8. It made me more comfortable in my own skin.
I’m not even embarrassed to post a picture like this on the internet even though it totally tells the world that I don’t have the same full head of hair that I did back in college:
That’s kind of yoga that I’m doing there, right?
9. It focused me in other areas of my life.
I used to be bad at finishing things I started. Now, after a year of yoga, I’m much better at it. Just this post for example, I wanted to do this all day, and now I’m getting it done. I mean, it did start as a list of 20 things I learned this year. But whatever. It’s also taught me that we are constantly evolving and that you need to take the good with the bad.