A breakdown of how to spend your time at the gym

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Chart showing breakdown of time spent at the gym:  Treadmill warmup and cooldown, checking myself out in the mirror, avoiding eye contact, running and lifting, rest and recovery

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What to really expect at your first yoga class

Are you thinking about hitting up your first yoga class?

If so, then you’ve probably spent a good deal of time researching what to expect.  In fact, I’d guess that before reading this, you just read fifteen identical articles by someone with a name like “Blissful Yogini.”  Congratulations!  Now you know to “Drink water!” and “Breathe!”  Did those tips set your mind at ease about what to expect in your first class?

Well, if your brain is anything close to the train wreck happening between my ears, chances are those articles just made you feel more anxious.

So, I’m here to break it down for you.  Based entirely on personal experience (which I have embellished for dramatic purposes), here’s a rundown of what you can realistically expect at your first yoga class.

The Regulars

When you walk into the room, you’ll be freaked out.  A number of people will have already set up their mats.  Most likely, these “regulars” claim the same spot at that class every time it is offered.  Look for spots on the floor that have been “marked” by regular’s sweat.  Steer clear of those locations.  Whatever you do, don’t look a regular in the eyes – it may be wrongly perceived as a territory grab.

For your first class, It’s best to arrive between 4 and 7 minutes prior to the beginning of class.  That way, the neurotic regulars will have already set out their mats, but the haggard late arrivers will not yet have started to trickle in.

Where to set up your mat

I recommend grabbing a spot as far in the back left or right corner as possible.

a cartoon by rob pollak - yoga for beginners

You will inevitably think that everyone in the class will stare at you and judge you while you’re doing yoga.  That’s not true:  Only some of the people will be doing that.

Setting up in the back allows you to see what other people are doing most of the time.  You will think that it will also make you invisible to the rest of the class, but it won’t.  Remember that half the time the class will have their heads buried between their legs or will be in some weird twist that allows them to make direct eye contact with you.  Try your best to avoid feeling self-conscious when everyone in the room is looking in the general direction of the midsection bulge that makes you feel badly about yourself.  Everyone is too self involved to notice.

Before Class Starts

In general, people sit quietly before class starts.  Other articles will tell you that this is a good time to sit mindfully and think about the events that are about to transpire.  In actuality, this time should be spent trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone else in class.  This is particularly difficult when there is a mirror in the front of the room.   Just stare blatantly at others only until they’re just about to catch your gaze, then quickly avert your eyes.

Meanwhile, you may notice that a few of the regulars (particularly the older ones) will be “warming up.”  A proper warmup consists of 3-5 minutes dedicated to dry humping the yoga mat.  Although it will be difficult, try not to react to the audible moans or mmmmmms that they emit while in a warm up.  Those sounds are totally normal.  Actually, they’re not normal.  They’re totally tolerated.

Gender Specific Advice

A brief side note for the guys:  Being surrounded by attractive women in yoga pants is an enormous benefit to this form of exercise.  Don’t screw it up by gawking.  There will be plenty of opportunities for a little peek during class.  But be discreet so you don’t Eff it up for everyone else.

A brief note for the ladies:  You know those purple yoga pants you wear?  Well, they become see through when stretched in a certain way.  Like totally completely transparent.  Thought you might want to know.  Nice thong by the way.

What happens to yoga pants when stretched - a drawing

The Beginning of Class

Eventually, the teacher will enter the room.  If you aren’t sure if the teacher has arrived, wait to see if a regular has jumped up to enthusiastically hug someone.  That’s the teacher.  Most likely, their friendship is entirely one-sided, but just forget I mentioned that when you become a regular yourself.

Many classes begin with the teacher asking you to come to a comfortable seat.  Note that by “comfortable” the teacher really means that you should sit with a completely erect back, your legs crossed in an unnatural way, your shoulders pulled back, your chin slightly protruding up, and your hands resting awkwardly on your thighs.  It is not only completely not comfortable, but also painful.

You may be asked to close your eyes and look within yourself.  For the first six months of my yoga practice, I used this time to awkwardly gaze around the room and ask myself, “what the hell am I doing here?”  You may catch eyes with the other person who is incapable of closing his eyes.  If that occurs, immediately close your eyes and pretend like it never happened.

The Poses

Once class gets underway, the teacher will guide you through various poses.  Sometimes, these will be called out in Sanskrit.  You will have no idea what is happening.  Just look around and do what everyone else does.  For reference, I’ve put together a chart of poses that you’re likely to encounter during your first class:

Yoga poses for beginners explained through pictures - A drawing by Rob Pollak

During these poses, the teacher will be instructing you on how to breathe.  Things like “Breathe in” – pause – “Breathe out” – pause.  These instructions in no way mirror the actuality of your breath.  For each “breathe in” instruction, I typically have 7-10 in breaths and 3-5 out breath gasps.

The final pose

The final pose is called Shavasana.  You lie on your back like a corpse and rest.  Of all the things you’ve done during your first class, none will make you feel more like an idiot than lying on the floor and resting.  The teacher will explain the purpose of this pose and instruct you to try to stop thinking about all the anxieties that you have in life.  This instruction will call all those anxieties, which you had not been thinking about until that very moment, to the forefront of your attention.  You may get angry and frustrated.  You’ll wonder how long you could possibly have to lie there.  You will hate yoga.  You will try to look at the clock. And then, for one brief second, you’ll get it.  Something incredible will happen and you will feel rested and amazing and about ready to succumb to the belief that there is something greater in the world.

At that very moment, the teacher will call you back to attention and tell you to sit up.  A second later, you will forget the revelation that you just had.  You will be frustrated.

But at the end of class, when you stand up, a bit of that feeling will return.  You won’t know what exactly just happened to you or understand why, but you’ll feel taller, smarter, more self aware, stronger, thinner, fitter, healthier, heartier, more loving, funnier, and confident.  Congratulations, you’re now a yogi.

(If you love, click on this article at the Elephant Journal and join me on Facebook)

The 9 Rules Every Yoga Teacher Should Follow

The 9 rules every yoga teacher should follow by Rob Pollak - Tips for yoga teachers and instructors

Nine simple things that every yoga teacher can do to make class a little bit more awesome.

Rule 1: Pay Attention to me!

Most yoga teachers really like yoga and also happen to be very good at it. These traits, however, do not mean that I’m taking your class to watch you be awesome. If that’s what I was seeking, I’d flip on your youtube channel. Please don’t forget the real, live, disgustingly sweaty people right there behind you. So, goddamnit, pay attention to us!

The best teachers strike a balance between showing off their mad skills and watching students struggle to get the little things right. They use their strength and ability to demonstrate or highlight certain aspects of a pose rather than to show off a one-handed side crow headstand that they’ve been working on in their Super-level 8 goddess class.

If I leave class thinking, “Wow, that teacher was sooo good at yoga,” then something went horribly wrong. I should walk by the treadmills on my way out of the gym thinking, “Wow, I am freaking awesome at yoga. Suck it, runners!”

A Yoga drawing by rob pollak - 9 rules every yoga teacher should follow

Rule 2: Introduce yourself to your students:

Loyal readers of mine will remember that I’m working on introducing myself. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t introduce yourself to me first.

All it takes is a one second conversation in which the teacher comes over and says, “Hey, I’m [insert hippie name]. Have you done yoga before? Any questions? Namaste, bro.” Boom – Instant openness and camaraderie.

However, since we’re preaching mindfulness here, just remember to be mindful of your junk:

Rules every yoga teacher should follow - Rule 2 Introduce yourself.  Tips for yoga teachers by Rob Pollak

3. Ignore Anything You Weren’t Supposed to See.

Look, things happen in yoga classes. Like the time I saw the entire left ball of the guy practicing next to me. Or how every time I jump from a standing fold into a push up, my shirt flies up a little bit, exposing the lower portion of my back (aka the upper portion of my ass). Look, I realize that the teacher is going to see everything that’s going on down there. Maybe he or she will even give it a once or twice over to size me up. Totally cool. There’s just no need to draw attention to the fact that I’ve got a little hair down there. Or that my love handles make twisting poses slightly more difficult.

How about we just agree to keep a few things between us?

In other words, maybe the moment my naked back and partially naked ass are exposed is not the best time for you to do that adjustment. You know the one. It’s when you grab my hips and pull them back or rest your hand on the sweaty small of my back and push with all your might. Yeah, save that for my first down dog. Just before the sweating starts.

I suspect we’ll both be happy with that agreement.

Tips for yoga teachers - Ignore anything you shouldn't see - a drawing by Rob Pollak

4. If you’re gonna Om, Om loudly.

At first, I admittedly did not like chanting “om.” Now, I can tolerate it. Maybe sometimes it’s kind of nice. Oh whatever. You caught me. I like it. So what. This isn’t the place for judgment.

Listen up, teachers: If you’re going to start with an Om, then do so with gusto-mmmm. Trust me, the class will follow your lead. But if you are timid and mousy with your om, then guess what? Your class will be quiet and timid and self-conscious when they holla’ back.

Also — and this is admittedly quite selfish of me — I’m 100 percent tone-deaf, so if you say it loud and say it proud, then I can join in without others noticing that I am the discordant MF’er ruining spiritual bliss.

Tips for yoga teachers - don't acknowledge tone deaf people during Om.  A drawing by Rob Pollak

5. Remember my name and use it.

We’ve already agreed that introductions are key. Well, that’s the easy part. The hard part is remembering those names and then using them throughout class. A deftly timed “Nice job, Bikram,” or “Sweet crow, Baba,” or “Pull your hips back, Tara” really pulls those people into the class.

But surprisingly, even when the teacher refers to someone else by name, I find that I try harder.

I’m all, “I want that too.” “Hey look at me!” “Don’t you think my crow is good?” “I’m trying so hard over here, you guys!”

Even a “whoa, looking a little sweaty, Rob” wins me over. Or, if you want to ignore rule 3, I’ll even take an “I can see a little bit of your ass crack, Rob. Pull up your pants, you disgusting slob.”

Tips for yoga teachers - Remember my name and I'm yours forever - a drawing by Rob Pollak

6. Go easy on the Rumi, okay?

Oh wow, you studied at an Ashram in India! And then you memorized all of Rumi’s quotes? You don’t say! That’s amazing!!! Sincerely.

But you know who doesn’t even know what an Ashram is? Guess who never took English 101 in college and doesn’t understand “quotes”? Oh yeah, that’s right! This guy.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up on Rumi altogether. What it means is that you should feel free to explain things to me. Even the stuff that seem painfully obvious. Because when you say a quote and then say, “well that speaks for itself,” what I’m thinking is “No. That doesn’t speak for itself. I hate this stupid class. I don’t get it. Wah wah wah poor me.”

While I’m thinking that, I’m sitting there nodding my head pretending to look like I have the slightest clue what you’re saying. Then I start thinking, “Damn, I bet she smoked a tonnnnn of a pot in college. That’s so hot.”

Tips for yoga instructors - keep the lessons simple, especially the rumi. A drawing by Rob Pollak

7. Come On, Speak English.

For the first three months I practiced yoga, I mistakenly thought every Sanskrit word meant Savasana. For any non-yoga people reading this, Savasana is a made up word that literally translates to “lie on the floor while thinking about everything you were supposed to do today but didn’t.”

Yoga teachers of America, you know how to fix that problem? Just speak English. We all understand English (except the Latvian woman who sometimes comes to that Vinyasa flow class on Wednesdays), so everyone will be on the same page when you say “Do crow.”

An added benefit: You may avoid that tattoo in Sanskrit. The one you think means, “Peaceful Warrior” but actually means, “judgmental douchebag” Oops!

Tip number 7 for yoga teachers, sanskrit cartoon by rob pollak

8. Be Considerate of Your Diverse Class When Giving Instructions.

So what if your class is usually all hot limber women? I’m here now, and I’d like to feel welcome, too! In order to make everyone feel at home, yoga teachers should give instructions that are mindful of the entirety of the class, not its largest component.

So no more “put this block under your bra strap,” or “you should feel a good stretch in your vagina.”

The bra strap is not an okay reference point - Rules for yoga teachers - a drawing by Rob Pollak

9. Make Class Fun!

This goes without saying, but if I’m having fun, I’m not thinking about how much I hate the teacher for all of the horrible painful things she’s making me do. So make it fun.

One incredibly easy way to make yoga more fun is by sharing this post with everyone you’ve ever met. And then following this blog at www.robpollak.com or on facebook.

The nine rules for yoga teachers - rule 9 make class fun - a drawing by Rob Pollak

(Selfish note:  This also appears at Elephant Journal:  Click the link so they will give me money)

How Yoga Cured My Anxiety, Laziness, and Intense Cynicism

Rob Pollak blog yoga picture Jamaice

(Here’s my latest for Elephant Journal: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/01/how-yoga-cured-my-anxiety-laziness-intense-cynicism-rob-pollak/)

Three small ways Yoga helped me set attainable new year’s resolutions.

Before we get started, there are three things you should probably know:

  1. My name is Rob (it’s nice to meet you);
  2. Elephant Journal recently asked me to be a recurring contributor (I said yes); and
  3. Today is January 11th (which, if you’re scoring at home, is a little late for a blog post about New Year’s resolutions).

Why do I care that you know three tidbits of information that on their face are completely uninteresting and mind-numbingly boring?

Because these three little statements represent a whole lot more. They represent a way for me to bring you inside this insane little head of mine. Only then can you start to understand how a few simple new year’s resolutions will help make 2013 epic, and how my new sense of yogic calm will provide me with tools to stick with them.

Resolutions used to be those stupid deals I made with myself at the beginning of the year but forgot by – oh, I don’t know – January 10th. But this year, when I say I’m bringing a yogic calm to my resolutions, what I mean is that I plan to do things that are meaningful to me, but also attainable. It means stepping out of my comfort zone but not so far that my goals become derailed by those inevitable little slip ups.

To start the year on the right foot, I’m throwing my old resolutions out the window.

Good bye, “lose 100 pounds.”

See ya later, “eat healthy.”

Suck it, “read the newspaper every day.”

Rot in hell “quit watching reruns of The Biggest Loser while binging on a scoop bowl pint gallon of Haagen Dazs” (Note – I didn’t even have to look up the spelling of that. Terrifying!).

This year, My resolutions all help make me a little more pleasant to be around. You’re welcome world!

Here are three of the goals that I’ve set and how I hope to meet them.

Resolution 1: Introduce myself more.

I sometimes describe myself as an outgoing introvert. When I feel comfortable in an environment, I don’t shut up. I’ll annoy you until you hate me. Kind of like I’m doing right now. Then, I’ll try so hard to win you over that eventually you’ll come around and start rooting for me. I’m like the kid from the movie Rudy — except without determination, athletic ability, or an overly jowl-y smile. My mixed level of confidence was apparent from a very young age:

Rob Pollak as a fat kid in a blazer on his birthdayBut the truth is that despite that outgoing bravado, on the inside I am anxious and meek when confronted with a new group of people. I hope and pray that someone else will step up and take that first step of introduction.

Practicing yoga helped me realize this trait. When I first went to classes, I’d huddle in the back of the room, timidly balled up in the corner. There, I’d hope that the teachers would introduce themselves to me and relieve my nervousness. With my big ol’ belly, a cotton shirt, and a puddle of sweat at my feet, I felt like an outsider to the Lululemon catalogue occupying the other mats in the room.

But that’s a pretty bad way of living Who wants to talk to a timid sweatball? Exactly!

So I resolved to get better at introductions. You can’t introduce yourself to someone if you’re shy or timid. It might mean faking it, or playing out the conversation 1400 times in my head before it happens, but chances are, other people hate introductions too. By stepping up and taking initiative, I can not only make my life better, but I can also relive the anxiety and lameness of others.

Resolution 2: Say yes to more things.

A few ways I have been described:

  • Cynical
  • a hater
  • Mr. negative
  • Mr. negativity
  • Senor Negativo
  • super lame
  • annoying
  • annoyed
  • an a$$hole
  • Pessimistic
  • a glass half empty kind of guy
  • a glass totally empty kind of guy
  • a glassless guy
  • pudgy
  • A fun-hater
  • a mega-fun-hater
  • handsome.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, sometimes I have a bad attitude:

Picture of Rob Pollak looking annoyed - yoga post

Well that’s all about to change! It’s time to get over those fun-hating, lazy, anxious ways. The anticipation of doing things is often worse than the actual doing of those things.

One way to get over my anxiety is to just start saying yes to more challenges and opportunities. By being more agreeable, I hope that taking possibilities into my own hands and trying to not let great opportunities slip through the cracks.

This actually reminds me of a yoga teacher who once shared an amazing inspirational quote. It was perfectly on point about this topic and completely changed my life and outlook on the world. If I remembered it, I would totally share it with you right now.

Oh! Got it:

“Every time an opportunity presents itself, take it; Otherwise, greatness will pass you by.”

– Some Famous Yoga Philospher

Okay, fine. I just made that up. But aren’t those great words to live by? I say yes.

Resolution 3: Commit to things and then finish them.

[note to self – insert paragraph explaining how I want to get better at finishing things that I commit to].

A Reflection on my 2012 Goals that I’m Retroactively Setting for Myself Right Now

Around Thanksgiving of last year, I set out to write a blog post reviewing my accomplishments from 2011 and setting my goals for 2012.  I never got around to it though, because just the thought of embarking on such a task sent me into a tailspin of creative blocks and self-loating that lasted for the rest of my life.  Or at least until my mom sent me on a yogic retreat intended for women experiencing midlife crises.

But now that a year has passed, my creative blocks have disappeared, and my outlook on life has shifted from severe cynicism to just mildly severe cynicism, it seems like a perfect time to reflect on 2012 and retroactively set the goals that I might have imagined for myself a year ago.  Then, I can reflect on how successful I was at achieving those goals.

Goals

Goal 1:  Set attainable goals for myself and then periodically measure my progress.

Damnit!  How can I fail at retroactive goals, you moron?  All I have to do is list out all of my achievements for the year and pretend that they were my goals and then I’ll feel really great about myself.  But nooooo, instead the first one I list is an utter failure.  Damn you mildly severe cynicism!

Okay.  Start over.  Goal number two can be to use the rest of this blog post to imagine what 2011 me might have written on New Year’s Eve 2011 for present me to reflect upon in a hilarious blog post that present me would write while wearing jeans that he had not washed for the entirety of the year.

–A brief aside:  Disregarding for a second that what I am about to say addresses a topic that most certainly has a correct answer, and that I am not sure whether I fall on the good side or bad side of that answer, or that I don’t care about which side I am, here’s something that’s bothering me:  

      I hate people that use the word “an” instead of the word “a” before a word that starts with H and has a hard H sound.  That’s why I said “a hilarious” not “an hilarious.”  I would also say “an hour” because I don’t say “an how-er,” I say “an ow-er.”  Ow starts with a vowel.  How doesn’t.  Did I make this more confusing because hour and how both start with Hs?  How would one spell the sound a hard H makes?  Eight-ch?  Speaking of eight-ch, who decided that g and h should go together?  Ghod?  Probably not, right?  Any way, this whole thought process is giving me an headache.  It’s a probably as ghood a time as any to return to the list of failures goals I set for 2012. 

 

Goal 2:  Run the New York City Marathon

In December of last year, I had hit the nadir of my running life.

graphUnless nadir means top, in which case I mean zenith.  So in an effort to get back in the game and enjoy running again, I came up with an elaborate plan:

Step 1: I forced myself to run the NYC half marathon (check)

Step 2:  I swore I would run my personal record time for that race (check)

Step 3:  Right now, I amended step two to clarify the the word “record” could mean either the fastest or slowest time I’d ever run.  Both would be records, right?  (nailed it!) (suck it mildly severe cynicism!)

Step 4:  While on the 45 minute walk home from the finish line, shivering from the cold, dehydrated, hating running and myself, thinking of nothing other than how I never wanted to ever run ever again in my life for any reason whatsoever, decide that I should definitely run the New York City marathon this year.   (check)

Step 5:  Cancel my entry for the marathon even though canceling does not benefit in me in any way.  It is a courtesy to the New York Road Runners so that they can plan their race accordingly and order one less water.

Step 6:  Have ING and NYRR cancel the marathon and allow all entrants to run the race in a future year!  Except for those who canceled their entry as a courtesy to ING and NYRR.

So, I’m doubly screwed.  Since even if I had spent the entire year training for the marathon my dreams would have been shattered, I am calling this one a win!  Mission accomplished, MF’ers!  I’m a marathoner!

runpic2

Goal 3:  Visit the gym 120 times.

120 visits has been a steady goal of mine since 2008, when I first joined fancy pants Equinox on a whim.  I remember it well because Anne and I had just moved to the Upper West Side, and we both agreed that me joining the fancier (but closer & eucalyptus towel sporting) gym would most likely turn out to be an enormous waste of money.  But I was really lazy, so I disregarded our collective common sense and signed up for Equinox with the promise that I would make sure to visit 120 times for the year.  An impossible goal to achieve, but one that would justify the cost.

Turns out that it worked!  Maybe it was the eucalyptus towels, maybe it was the angle of the mirrors that made me appear slightly less pudgy than I really was, or maybe it was the layout of the locker room in the Connecticut gyms that ensures every other guy will walk nude for an extremely inappropriate distance before grabbing a towel.  No one can be sure.

Whatever it was that got me 120 times in 2008 did not help me this year, when I only had 110 visits.  Why even bother?   I did some research on this, and for optimal results, you should be working out 2 hours a day.  At least according to science:

How many days should i work out    Yahoo  Answers

How many days should i work out    Yahoo  Answers

Goal 4:  Write a blog post that is published by an online media outlet that shares a name with an animal typically found in zoos:

Whoa!  Nailed this one.  Great job, 2012 Rob!:

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/12/9-things-i-learned-from-my-first-year-of-yoga-rob-pollak/

Readers, I’ll need your help to achieve a related goal in 2013.  Even after a really great day, fewer people viewed my article than viewed an article titled, “Your ugly vagina is normal and gorgeous.”  So if you want to make me more popular than an ugly vagina, then share my link!  By the way, I’m not linking to the ugly VJJ article for obvious reasons.  (the obvious reason being that you will click and then it will continue to rack up more views than my article).

Goal 5:  Build up my blog a little bit and then lose all of my followers.

Wait, that doesn’t seem like something 2011 me would set out to do.  Oh, ok 2012 Rob.  Then why mention an article about ugly vaginas?  You’re going to drive everyone away.  Or will I?  Google Analytics says that in 2012 the search term that most often directed people to my blog was “Jamaican Penis?”  (This is the space where I am providing a link to the post about Jamaica so no one has to click on a link with the word penis [but if you like clicking on penises, then this is for you: 8======> ) (FYI if you’re reading this mom – that’s internet slang for a picture of a penis).  So if you’ve found me through either of these search terms, Welcome!  Bienvenue!  Bonvenon!  G’Day!  And if that offended you, I’m sorry to see you go.  But at least I won’t have to draw any more thank you pictures.  See ya suckers.

Goal 6:  Eat 200 pints of ice cream.

Finally!  I totally nailed this one.  And not only did I accomplish it, I completed the whole thing by February.

icecream

Up next – My goals for 2013…if I get around to it.