My Roundabout Yoga Journey
How my indirect attempts at yoga eventually brought me back full circle to the things that matter most in life.
I never imagined developing a fondness for yoga. Sure, it piqued my curiosity, but I foolishly viewed it as “just stretching.” However, at the same time, I admired the images of celebrities splashed in magazines. They all thanked their devotion of yoga for not only their fit figures but for various other changes like self-acceptance. So onto the bucket list, it went, where it remained for a while.
I found it hard to make time to workout, and I wanted something quick and intense, like running. Running was always my preferred workout; the fast pace was something that came naturally to me as a kid, and as I got older, it became the best outlet to relieve my stress. But the more I ran, the more I was encouraged to do yoga to “balance it all out.” Yeah, that sounds perfect, I thought.
Except, “perfect” is not the word I would use to describe my early yoga journey. To me, I would compare it to a carousel or merry-go-round. It felt like I was constantly going round and round looking, without being able to propel forward. Simply put, it was making me dizzy.
Let’s See What This is All About
My first attempt at yoga was during a fitness seminar. I was eager to finally cross it off my bucket list and see what the hype was all about. I pondered if yoga could actually replace the “runner’s high” that I was always chasing.
The class was about as intimate as an airport terminal during a busy holiday weekend. Hundreds of pastel mats erupted over the floor, and the clamoring ensued. The male instructor barked pose after pose at an impossible pace. Of course some people were able to keep up with the chaos, but for the most part, this felt more like a slumber party. Oh well, I thought. This was just a warm up. It will be different next time.
During the next year, various yoga classes trickled into my fitness routine thanks to free trial sessions at local studios. However, none of them fit what I was envisioning. One studio felt too trendy, another had an instructor who seemed unresponsive to the class, and one studio even offered classes that felt too holistic, dare I say. I even tried doing yoga at home through YouTube, but I found it hard to focus.
The worst part about the class was feeling impatient. Certain poses felt like they dragged out and I was constantly thinking about what we would do next. I decided yoga probably wasn’t for me, but at least I tried.
Another Round, Another Try
The following year, I was confronted with yoga as a fitness option again. The boot camp studio I was attending decided to expand and offer a variety of classes. Since I was dragging my sister to boot camp, she said I would have to return the favor and attend yoga with her. Fine, I thought, but I doubt it will benefit me. It was a no-frills space, but I didn’t mind.
The instructor was an avid weightlifter but praised yoga for bringing her inner peace. Most of the yoga instructors I had encountered until this point had put their cardio training behind them, so it was refreshing to meet someone who enjoyed both. I realized I should probably be doing the same, too.
Was the class perfect? Well, no. The instructor would allow people to walk ten minutes late into class. Then, the studio was shared with the boot camp class in the next room. This meant people would show up during shavasana (Corpse Pose) to set up for the next class, which then meant the yoga chimes were drowned out by dumbbells crashing the floor. Nevertheless, even with these hiccups, I still enjoyed going.
I noticed I was sleeping better at night, my core strength improved (no need to suffer through hundreds of crunches), my energy increased, and it felt like my immunity improved during the Fall/Winter season. I also finally found an instructor I could relate to, and each session ended with a reminder of self-acceptance. I will admit, I hardly had any stress in my life during this time, but it was still an excellent way to challenge myself. Just when I finally started feeling like I was close to reaching yogi status, the crushing news was announced that classes would no longer be offered. I was shattered.
This time around, I didn’t want to take a break from yoga. I moved on to a chain of hot yoga studios thanks to an online deal. I had some friends scoff at the idea of going to a chain studio since they viewed it as the yoga equivalent of fast food. “Places like that don’t care about your well-being. It’s just about getting your money and getting you back out the door.” Ultimately, the cost and not wanting every class to be overheated pushed me to resume my search.
My sister enthusiastically tried to get me to attend a studio that I never noticed before. “You will love the instructor!” she gushed, “She really helps you in finding your inner peace.” At this point in my life, I started developing some stress, so I was eager to give this place a chance. Plus, while I finally started reaping the physical benefits of yoga, I wanted to experience the zen-like state so many yogis had embedded into them.
Holding on When the Ride Breaks Down
As soon as I walked in, I felt welcomed. I knew this class would be great, or so I thought. A few minutes in, I couldn’t focus. All my previous balance and flexibility had evidently dissolved. After a few failed poses, I tense up. “Loosen up!” my sister whispers, “It’s yoga, not the military!” She’s right. I tried to shake it all out but was still struggling. The feeling of dejection was prominent within me. “How is this possible? How could I lose everything I developed so quickly?” Then it got worse.
I looked around the class to see people doing handstands. One by one, each yogi starts to outdo the other. The class quickly began to resemble a Cirque du Soleil audition. “Uhh, how is she doing that?” I ask myself. “Why am I even here?” The teacher gently reminded us, “Remember, stop comparing.” “Fine,” I internally sneered, “I won’t compare myself to the others, but I still can’t help compare myself to the old me!”
The hands on the clock mocked me. I started thinking about errands and work. I couldn’t tune anything out. Finally, the end of class arrived, and the word “namaste” slips off the lips of the instructor. I reflect on the meaning of namaste where the sensation of my soul honors your soul so we can feel united. I negatively ponder, “How can I repeat this word back when I can’t even find unity within myself?” I packed up my belongings but decided I’d come back thanks to the encouragement from my sister. I may not have achieved a meditative state of mind, but I’m tenacious.
Rediscovering My Strength
Before the next class, I walked in and as I unrolled my mat, my fear slightly unraveled as well. I took a deep breath and tried to remind myself that I can do this. The instructor remembered me and gave me a quick pep talk after I voiced my frustrations. She explained to me that yoga is about having the trust to let go and that there is no judging in yoga.
I realized that I had been buried by my own constant negative thoughts, and been allowing others to project their negativity onto me as well. I was always focusing on the next step instead of being present. It was my time to let go. I committed myself to find inner peace.
As each week went by, I found myself blossoming into the better version of myself that I had experienced before. I felt empowered again. Not only did I have my core strength back, but my stress levels had started to deplete.
As my practice progressed, I started habitually walking into each class ready to exhale the negativity and inhale self-acceptance. My instructor also helped me perfect my poses, and I remembered not to push myself too hard either. This was it; this was the class I was searching for.
For many yogis, there is something symbolic about Tree Pose. One day, while practicing it, I realized I wasn’t wobbling anymore. “Are others wobbling around me? It doesn’t even matter; I am present in the moment.” I realized that I was no longer worried about the next step. Just like a tree cultivated in nature, I too had developed my own roots.
I first sought out yoga because I wanted to achieve that glow that everyone talked about — the type that sometimes comes from a bottle. Little did I know, that glow would only be achieved by releasing what was bottled up inside me.
The early portion of my yoga journey felt like a carousel. It seemed like I was going around in circles with no change in sight. However, this sensation ended up teaching me a life lesson.
With a carousel, you travel down, but it is important to remember that you will come back up. And, you don’t have to worry about the next step; instead, you are seated and forced to see the same view again. This is ultimately a great blessing. The second, third, and even fourth time around, you are gifted with a new perspective.
It took me a few tries, but eventually I learned to let go and enjoy the ride.