Of all the things that I know are good for me and make life better, yoga has been the hardest to get to stick.
I went to my first yoga class when I was 15 with my mom. I'm now 34, so saying it took 20 years for me to get with the jive is a tad dramatic. It actually took 19. But I've turned a corner now, and just like when my eating habits shifted from mostly junk to mostly nutritious, I know this will now be a part of my life. I even bought my first yoga pass today!
There are some people who take to yoga right away. I was always confused by this because I just didn't get it. Which is funny, because I took to meditation right away. I got meditation. Tune into my inner self and I could shift my outer world in powerful ways. But yoga? I didn't get it. It wasn't exactly exercise, at least not in the way I'd always known (I grew up playing volleyball and basketball and I was on the swim team). It also wasn't meditation, at least not in the way I wanted it to be.
There are also a few specific things that held me back that you may have experienced too.
The first was a couple of over zealous teachers that made me hate yoga. Yes, I hated it at times. I've noticed in the last few years that these kinds of teachers have become sparse. The yoga community has evolved as it's become mainstream. All of the teachers I've had lately have been gentle, encouraged the students to take breaks, and to be where they are. I've also noticed along with this is more students like myself - aka the ones grunting and sweating and smiling even though they're twitching and about ready to collapse. It used to seem like all my yoga classes were filled with experienced people. I hated this too. Things have changed in the yoga community and it's well worth revisiting if you dabbled in the past also.
Another thing that held me back is the fact that yoga is damn hard at first. No matter how fit you are, I guarantee you that yoga will challenge you. You're putting your body in strange positions and as soon you finally got it the class is moving on to the next one. You will come to realize your entire body is a giant knot and you never knew it. On top of this, each teacher has their own style and flow. I was always being caught off guard. It aggravated me that no matter how many classes I took, I felt like a beginner. When the eff was I going to get relaxed and enjoy this bloody thing?
The worst part for me was that all of this was in a group setting. I really struggled with the idea of public embarrassment. They always tell you in class not to worry what your neighbor is doing, but we all look. It happens. It can't be helped. Sometimes I look to other people for help because I have no idea what pose is being called out. Sometimes I look because that's what people do. This has become a part of the meditation for me now. I let everyone do what they do and I do what I do. It's a rather beautiful metaphor for life. But in those early days, I was struggling hard. I couldn't keep up with the flow. I had no idea how to hold a pose. And I was sweating. All the time. I mean rivers of sweat pouring down my face. This still happens, but I've made peace with it. No one ever sweats as much as me. This, compounded with the idea that I had no idea what I was doing, made me feel embarrassed, stupid and gross. What the hell is relaxing about that? Nothing. Nothing at all.
But then something happened. I found Kundalini yoga.
I found a type of yoga I LOVED. I could feel how transformative it was after each class. If my friend hadn't been the teacher I would've never gone. Thankfully I did, because through that class I finally began to understand yoga. Yoga, for the first time, was releasing my stress. It was breaking me of thought patterns and liberating me from the idea of who I thought I was so and freeing me to be who I wanted to be. As my friend explained it, the poses are intentionally strange and new. This is because it gets you to break the deeply entrenched patterns that we form throughout life.
In other words, I was supposed to feel uncomfortable. Through the discomfort I was being liberated. I was tearing down my comfort zone and opening myself up to what was outside of it. For me, depression has been a cyclical pattern. It used to return on a loop for various reasons. Kundalini yoga was a huge resource in me finally breaking that pattern. I'm sure it was as much the breathing as anything (Kundalini yoga is different than other types and focuses on quick, sharp breaths while moving or holding your body in specific ways).
Thank you Kundalini yoga. Not only because you're a fun word to say but because you saved me from rejecting yoga altogether. That class was several years ago, and still after, I rarely attended yoga.
What changed was seeing how much my parents struggle as they age.
My mom's had both her hips replaced. My dad has had knee replacement and he's so stiff he can barely put on a backpack. I refuse to roll into my twilight years feeling like my body is turning against me. From everything I've looked into, there's simply nothing as healing and restorative as yoga. It doesn't matter how many massages you get, how much you stretch, how good your diet is. There is no pill that replaces yoga.
But the other thing that finally shifted me, ironically enough, was taking a hot yoga class. I say ironically because I was convinced hot yoga was hell. If I didn't get the point of regular yoga then this was just downright bizarre to me. I was already feeling tortured enough. Did we really need to add oppressive heat to the mix?
It only took one class to tell me that yes, I needed the heat. It relaxed all my muscles and I wasn't so tortured by the process. Once the sweat got rolling I felt the release. The kind of release you feel when you've sat in a dry sauna and let your whole body open up and detoxify. I also didn't notice the heat like I thought I would have (which is probably because I love dry saunas. If you like a good sweat in a sauna you might actually love hot yoga also). The bonus part: almost all hot yoga classes follow the same flow. It's a great learning space.
Hot yoga was the final straw to tip the scales. All of my comfort barriors had been torn down. I started taking other non-hot classes after, and I could feel the shift. I could feel what yoga was doing.
If you've ever wanted to clear and transform old and stuck energy in your body, there is nothing like yoga.
For example, if you get a lot of stomach aches it could be because you hold your anxiety there. Through the various bends and twists in yoga you'll break up that angst and anxiety, get it flowing, and return it to positive energy. If you experience a lot of lower back pain it might be because you hold you feelings there of not being supported. Yoga will get that energy flowing and also tune you into the feeling of core strength, which ensure you feel supported from within at all times. If you are constantly tired, yoga will get energy flowing up your spine, which is a huge energy pathway.
I could could go on and on about the connections between yoga and our emotional bodies, but I think you can see what I mean. Personally, I hold a lot of stuff in my hips (maybe my mom does too - remember I said she had them both replaced?). The hips are very symbolic for a woman as they cradle our feminine energy. Basically, if you're familiar with chakras, then I will tell you that yoga will balance and heal them in a way that will support and enhance any meditative process.
Oh, and about the meditation in yoga. I've found it. I've found my zen place in the control I exert in each pose. I've found my inner focus while doing physical movement, which is a new level of spirituality for me. I've even found my zen in the discomfort.
And I've learned that the exercise aspect was there all along. Not sure how I missed that one, considering I was sweating from every pore.