How I Stopped Hating Yoga in 5 (Not so Easy) Steps
Considering that I’m about to jump into a yoga teacher training program, it might surprise you to know that only a few short years ago I didn’t “get” yoga. No, I straight up didn’t like it. It was boring! I wasn’t flexible enough! I wanted to get a REAL workout! And, not least of all, hippie-crunchy yogis chanting “om” was super weird!
What changed between now and then to transform me from a disgruntled skeptic to a budding yogi about to embark on a teacher training journey? It took some time, but gradually I had a series of experiences and realizations that completely changed my perspective.
1. I found my breath.
Breath perhaps the most important part of yoga, but — for me at least — one of the most difficult to figure out. I remember my very first class where I was finally able to perfectly sync my breath with each pose in a hot vinyasa class. Everything just clicked, and it was like I finally got it — I knew why people did yoga! Through breath I found a sense of purpose in movement, and I discovered a similar meditative property that I had previously only experienced when running long distances.
Up until this point I had only practiced yoga sporadically for a few years. While training for half marathons I scheduled in once weekly yoga classes, not because I wanted to practice but because I reluctantly accepted how important stretching was to balance out my running mileage. Occasionally I would drop in to yoga classes with friends, curious as to why they liked it so much, but I just didn’t get it.
One summer I began dating a yoga teacher and was intrigued enough by the role of yoga in transforming his life to begin taking his class weekly. I was more in my comfort zone in his class because I knew him personally, and as a bonus he would give me special help and even sometimes would customize the flow to include things that I wanted to work on.
It was in his class that I found my breath, which inspired me to slowly branch out and try other teachers’ classes. Once I discovered this rhythm I soon realized that I was truly enjoying what I previously rejected as something that just wasn’t my thing.
2. I quit fighting the “om.”
When I first began taking yoga classes I refused to participate in chanting “om.” It just felt goofy! Eventually, as yoga became a more regular part of my week, I decided to give it a try. The awkwardness remained for many months. I often experienced a hard lump in my throat during my om, interrupting me in the middle, instantly cutting off my voice and preventing me from completing the chant — as though a strong emotion was bubbling to the surface that I didn’t want to let out for fear of what would happen.
Throughout much of my life outside of yoga class I’ve struggled with letting my emotions flow freely. I rarely cry around loved ones, and never in public. If someone’s words or actions upset me, especially if it’s someone I’m dating, more often than not I will bury my feelings for fear of rocking the boat. Of course, keeping my emotions inside only makes them more intense and torturous.
I’d always heard so much about how yoga helps you “let go.” It took a while, but I finally got my first taste of this many months after I’d already been practicing regularly, in an epiphany similar to the night I found my breath. The teacher led us in an “om” chant at the end of class, and as I felt that familiar lump rising in my throat I chose to chant through it rather than let it quiet me. As I did this I felt an incredible sense of release as the lump simply disappeared as I chanted through and then past it.
What an incredible feeling! Instead of fighting the emotion bubbling up, I let it out completely — and in its place remained a sense of calm and contentment. Letting go is still something I’m very much working on in yoga and in life, but this moment was an important milestone for me in understanding the practice.
3. I discovered what my body was capable of.
I’ve always been terribly inflexible. For most of my life I couldn’t even touch my toes in a forward fold. On top of natural inflexibility, years of road running and even more years of sitting at a desk all day shortened my muscles so much that I felt I just wasn’t capable of doing yoga. What was the point if I couldn’t do most of what everyone else in class was doing?
When I expressed these concerns to teachers, they would tell me things that I now tell to people who are hesitant to try yoga for the same reasons: You do not need to be flexible to do yoga because there are so many elements beyond simply being super bendy. And, perhaps more importantly, everyone in yoga has their own personal practice with their own unique strengths and limitations, and so it does not serve you well to compare yourself to where others may be.
I began to really have fun in yoga when I discovered arm balances. I excel far more with strength than I do with flexibility, so once I figured out that I could nail complicated and arm balances, a whole new world opened up to me. Landing crow for the first time was only the beginning — I never would have expected that I could contort myself into eight-angle pose, and without much difficulty!
Busting out a fun arm balance in class not only looks cool but makes me feel pretty proud of myself, too. It doesn’t matter that I can barely do a seated forward bend because there are so many really fun things that I can do.
And, a neat side effect is that now I am so much more flexible (though I still have a long way to go) — I can finally touch my toes!
4. I became part of a local yoga community.
One of the most important aspects of your yoga practice is finding a studio that reflects your personal style and interests. This is a huge part of what held me back in my years of reluctantly dabbling in yoga: I didn’t feel comfortable in any of the studios I visited. They were either too competitive, too preachy, too slow, or just not fun.
This all changed once I discovered South Boston Yoga. I quickly became comfortable there as the teachers were all friendly and relaxed, they played great music, their classes were fun and interesting, and they were welcoming to anyone of any level. This was just the right atmosphere I needed to begin the foundations of my yoga practice.
My connection to this studio was further solidified when I joined two SBY teachers on a yoga & Pilates retreat to Nicaragua last February. I could write many posts on why this retreat was so beneficial to me, but one of the greatest reasons was that when I returned home I had several new close friends who I would continue to see regularly in and outside of the studio.
It truly makes a huge difference when I can expect to see friendly faces — familiar or not — when I show up to practice. Something I have always sought out in my life, as do most humans, is a sense of belonging to a warm, welcoming community. I have certainly found that at SBY, and I doubt I would spend as much time practicing yoga if it weren’t for the people who share it with me at this studio. This is also a huge part of why I decided to pursue my teacher training at SBY as it will only further strengthen my connection to the community.
5. I began viewing yoga as an integral component of, rather than a supplement to, my regular exercise routine.
Once upon a time I viewed yoga only as something I “should” be doing to “fix” my chronic inflexibility. I made time for it only when I couldn’t do any of my other myriad activities, and it certainly was not high on my list of priorities.
This all changed when I sprained my low back while lifting weights one year ago. Suddenly, all I could do was yoga. I was devastated, but I knew that for my mental health I HAD to move in some way — so yoga it was!
After a few weeks of practicing 5–6 days weekly, two things happened. First: I realized how much I loved and appreciated yoga for still providing me the opportunity to move my body, and in ways that worked around my injury. Practicing so often meant I was seeing rapid progress, especially in my favorite arm balances. Cool, a way to practice my strength without lifting anything not already attached to my body! I was hooked.
Second, I realized that — holy crap — yoga is most definitely a form of exercise. It includes flexibility, yes, but also strength and balance — all elements that will absolutely benefit any other kind of activity you do. And, just like any other exercise, there is such a thing as too much yoga. Turns out 5–6 days each week was a LOT: my shoulders would be so tired from repeated chaturangas day after day that I was forced to take a rest day, since there was nothing else I could do (rest days, another new concept!). Not to mention all of the full on core work, which is not something I previously would not have expected to find in a yoga class.
Now yoga is an integral part of my exercise routine rather than an afterthought. It does not count as a rest day because yoga is hard. And, my yoga practice has immensely benefited my weight lifting and running, and vice versa!
I often chuckle to myself when looking back on the me from three years ago who lamented how boring yoga was. What would she say if she knew how important yoga would become to me only a few years later? I’m not sure, but the me today now tries to keep a more open mind both in and outside the studio.