Image Source: Devanath via Pixabay + edits.

A Friend Dragged Me to Yoga — Twice — and, I’m So Glad She Did

Thanks to a persistent friend, I got hooked on yoga just in time to have it carry me through one of the most challenging times in my life.


I had various misgivings and preconceptions about yoga, so my start wasn’t exactly enthusiastic. Back in 2005, it was the fashionable thing to be doing in Santa Monica, California. However, I wasn’t ready to jump into it.

The spandex and yoga pants I saw hip young women wearing around town were not quite my style, to put it mildly. Not that I have any problem with spandex for yoga. I just felt that these artificial and high-tech materials didn’t quite mesh with the earthy and soulful mindset I’d always associated with yoga.

Furthermore, the idea of sitting in a room barely two inches away from other mats with sweaty people on all sides was definitely outside my comfort zone. I grew up playing grass hockey, horseback riding, water and snow skiing, biking and dancing — I loved wide open spaces.

Santa Monica Pier, CA. Image Source: Anita S. via Pixabay + edits.

My First Class

It took quite a bit of persuasion to convince me to attend my first class. A lively Spanish friend of mine, Monica, kept insisting that I come and check it out. Eventually, I just gave in.

At the time, I owned Thunderbolt Spiritual Books, a metaphysical bookstore in Santa Monica. More on that later, but the studio that my friend wanted to take me to was located just two doors down and played host to various yoga teachers.

The iconic Buddha statues in Thunderbolt Spiritual Books, a metaphysical bookstore in Santa Monica, CA which I used to own and operate.

Despite my misgivings and feeling very self-conscious, off I went with her to my first yoga class. The studio space was at the end of a steep flight of stairs. Once we reached it, we entered a class packed, mat-to-mat, wall-to-wall.

The class was taught by an excellent instructor, with a strong focus on fitness. The style was power yoga, which was booming in L.A. at that time. Following along as best I could, I felt awkward, stiff, and clumsy. It was my first taste of yoga.

There were things I liked about that first class and Power Yoga in general. It is an excellent style for people who want a workout with a little more to it. However, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I wanted something more mindful and down to earth. I expected something different from yoga. I didn’t want to focus on fitness, but reconnect with my soul, learn how to better cope with life, and so on.

The Lucky Second Try

My friend wasn’t about to give up on me so quickly. She insisted that I try another class with a different teacher who taught at the same studio. Though not quite convinced, I still accompanied her to my second class.

There I was again, in a room packed full of people. However, this time, I loved the instructor, Ally Hamilton. She had a great sense of humor and immediately made me feel that it didn’t matter what I could or couldn’t do because it was all ok. I felt comfortable and accepted.

I quickly became hooked, but initially could only bear to attend once a week, as my body ached all over after each class and it would take me a whole week to recover. However, soon enough I was frequenting there three days a week, as my recovery cycle shortened. Eventually, I was there five days a week. It happened slowly. I never expected this. I felt so well and strong both physically and emotionally.

This is one of my paintings. I call it, “Mindfulness.”

Tough Times

I went through some challenging times, including a problematic separation and having to let go of a business that I loved. I honestly don’t know how I could have coped without those yoga classes. They somehow helped me process and release my emotional pain.

Ally taught me to work on being comfortable with myself in an atmosphere that was welcoming and non-competitive. Her classes became a haven where I could practice failing comfortably until I got it right.

It changed my view of what failure is. No matter how many times I failed, I was comfortable either falling or trying. Listening to how I felt, some days it was ok to work harder and on others not as hard. Pushing hard, or slowing it down, or a bit of both — it was all good. I had started to check in with myself. I had started paying attention to the negative conversations with myself. This approach was an epiphany for me.

“We have the power to change the stories we tell ourselves.” — Ally Hamilton

Ally opened her own studio in Santa Monica, Yogis Anonymous, where I continued my classes.

Ally Hamilton heading a class at Yogis Anonymous studio, Santa Monica, CA. Photo, by Josh Nelson + edits.

Traveling and Online Classes

I grew up in Uruguay, South America and have travelled throughout my life, following my feet and my heart. When I left Los Angeles and traveled, I was able to keep up my practice thanks to Alli and her partner having made all of their studio’s classes online at YogisAnonymous.com. I love taking online classes, as they are convenient, and in some ways, more intimate and private.

I have now been practicing yoga for twelve years. When I stop for an extended period, I feel my body begging me to start up again. I have a bad lower back and neck from small accidents. When I don’t practice the pain slowly returns and gradually worsens. I do a few stretches here and there, but in my case, nothing compares to a vinyasa (flowing pose transitions) class to get my body strong and healthy again.

Punta del Diablo, Uruguay. Image Source: Jessica Jbntt via Pixabay + edits.

So, What Did Yoga Do for Me?

When non-yoga people ask me what yoga is like, I tell them, it’s like having a great massage. It leaves you completely relaxed and gets deep into your tissues. It seems to add space to your spine and relieves tension.

Yoga helped me become more accepting and loving towards my body. This was a massive change for me. Now, instead of worrying about what I look like, my focus has shifted to how I feel. I’ve become more self-aware. My flexibility, strength, and posture have all improved too. It also taught me to relax.

Through the difficult times, yoga has helped balance my emotions. It taught me to be ok with myself and my decisions. I’m now better able to deal with their consequences and the unhappiness, heartbreak, and challenges that life deals us all.

All of these factors have combined to boost my self-confidence.

Unexpected Progress

One of my paintings. I call it, “Sri Aurobindo,” after the great Indian philosopher, yogi, guru, and poet.

As you practice yoga, something happens. Shifts take place gradually and organically. They are usually subtle, but not always so.

Poses that scared me when I started, thinking: there was no way that I would ever be able to get my leg there, or do that handstand or whatever it was, eventually became possible. One day, out of the blue, I’d think, “Heck, I’ll give it a go!” And, to my complete surprise, I’d find myself placing my leg where I thought I would never be able to with ease.

There were a series of pinnacle moments for me, after which I would try more and more poses.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that change and growth could come so quickly. One day, I had absolutely no balance, and the next, I would, with no conscious intention, have no problems balancing. It just happened, and it blew me away.

Patience

Yoga teaches us to not judge ourselves. When holding a difficult posture, your arms might start to shake, and you may start sweating. When it becomes uncomfortable, this is when Ally talks about “hanging in there.” She tells you to feel the sensations without judging whether or not you are doing it well.

Yoga taught me to be patient with myself.

By looking for calmness and acceptance in an uncomfortable moment that is under our control, we learn to become less reactive in real life situations. Rather than resisting the discomfort, we embrace it, coming to understand that it will pass. We are reminded that everything passes. The moment won’t last forever.

Whether it be the sting of hurtful words or heartbreak, instead of reacting, we can learn to breathe and know that it will pass. Gradually, the negative self-talk of not being good, pretty, or smart enough, starts to change.

One of my paintings. This one is a self-portrait, which I’ve called “Riding.”

To the people who don’t think that yoga is something they would be comfortable doing, I recommend that they give it a try. Yoga may well help in unexpected ways. It did and continues to do so for me. So, if you don’t want to do yoga, well, just give it a try anyway! I’m glad I did.