Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My "Come to Yoga" Moment, or: How I stopped hating yoga and started loving it

starting a post with a cute-dog-doing-yoga pic? I know, I'm shameless
I used to hate yoga. Like, hate it with a fiery passion. "Why aren't I moving more and burning more calories? Why do I have to breathe so slowly? Why is this taking forever? AHHH I'm so bored yoga is the woooorst!!" All in my head, of course, because I'm not a terrible person who interrupts the zen of others by yelling about how much I hate yoga while in a yoga class.

That was my opinion when I was 13 and it didn't change when I tried to take a yoga class in undergrad at age 18. Whenever I visited home and my dad wanted me to take his yoga class with the rest of the family (he teaches at a few local gyms), I'd try to come up with an excuse. I just hated it. I hated how time seemed to drag while I was in class; I kept sneaking glances at the clock and calculating how far through we were and how long until my favorite position -- lying there, doing nothing.

Today, yoga is a cornerstone of my active life, and I schedule yoga classes or practices into my week the same way I schedule runs and strength training. I love feeling my body lengthen as I move through the poses. Nothing makes me feel as limber and strong as going through a vinyasa with as much grace as I can manage. And although shavasana ("corpse" pose, or "lie there and do nothing" pose) is still my favorite pose, now it's because it's an opportunity to reflect on the previous hour or so and how good it made me feel.

So... what changed? Well, I stopped looking on exercise purely as calorie-burning that had to be done (occasionally, hating every moment with a fiery passion) and began looking at it as something that I enjoyed and that strengthened my body. As you become healthier, I think you become more aware of your body and how it feels. That's what led me to eat a lot less dairy and cut out meat completely (although I still eat seafood). I didn't feel good eating them. That doesn't mean it's best for everyone, but it's what I realized I felt best doing. I think that's what makes yoga so much more appealing to me now. I can feel how good it is for my body. I finish my yoga practices feeling both stronger and looser, full of calm energy instead of the wiry, buzzy energy I feel after a cup of coffee.

dancer pose on the top of Whistler Mountain
Yoga feels nourishing to me now. If I want to do my best in a yoga practice, I need to concentrate on my body, not my mind. Is my front leg at a 90 degree angle? Am I sending energy out through my arms to keep them engaged, not lying in the air? How's my breathing? Am I breathing? The body awareness that yoga encourages is something I seek now, rather than avoid.

I don't like all yoga. I've tried several studios, and found that if the instructor spends too much time talking or the flow doesn't feel intuitive to me, I don't leave class feeling that wonderful post-yoga glow that I feel after my favorite classes. But any time I practice yoga at Strala Yoga or with my trainer, Amanda, at Uplift Studios (or with my dad when I'm in WA!), I leave feeling more aware of my body and the space I inhabit. I feel calm, strong, centered, and aware.

I think what stands out to me with these instructors is the emphasis they place on the class being your practice. It isn't someone's idea of what yoga should be. You're led through a series of moves, but the emphasis is on letting yourself be the ultimate guide. The introspection that is required of yoga by virtue of the attention you pay to your body and how it feels throughout class means that, for me, if an instructor talks about philosophy for a portion of the class, I am taken out of that concentration. Depending on how intent upon the pose I was, asking me to think about something too far removed from that present moment can make it much harder for me to get back into that mindset of being present.

The days when I practice yoga are just better days, in the same way that days when I run are better, but in a different way. Running days leave me feeling strong and excited by all my body is capable of accomplishing, similar to how I feel after a tough strength-based class. Yoga days leave me glowing with the knowledge of the quiet strength my body holds.

And what about the days when I run and practice yoga? Well, those are the best days.

Do you enjoy doing yoga? Is it part of your normal exercise routine or an occasional class you take? 


  1. I don't do yoga. Well, I do some poses to help strengthen/stretch my lower back. But I do those at home after reading a few yoga books and watching a few videos. So it's probably some ugly version of what I'm actually *supposed* to be doing.

    On my off-days (when I don't run), I go swimming instead. At first, I hate it as much as you hated yoga (I think). It was hard, I wasn't getting my breathing right so I was burning a lot of energy... But after keeping at it for a few months, I found my rhythm. Just like you do in running.

    If I could run every day, I would. But that's not practical. The body needs to rest. So on the days I don't run, I swim. And as much as I don't look forward to it, because sometimes, frankly, I don't. It always leaves me feeling damn good. When I'm there doing laps, I don't want to stop. Just like I don't want to stop when I'm out running on that trail.

    You wrote: "I finish my yoga practices feeling both stronger and looser, full of calm energy instead of the wiry, buzzy energy I feel after a cup of coffee."

    That's how I feel about both running and swimming. I drink little to no coffee these days, and little to no energy drinks. I've cut waaaay down from earlier this year. And I feel stronger and more naturally rejuvenated through out my days. And that's all thanks to running and swimming. I couldn't be happier than I am today.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Ricardo. The places where I like doing yoga don't believe in any "supposed" to, which is what I love about them (except for not doing things that will injure you!). I'm all about the non-judgment :)

      I really can't swim very well, but it's something I've been wanting to work on for a while because the idea of completing a triathlon has been percolating at the back of my mind. Maybe I'll try when I'm home and have easier access to a gym with a pool! I've heard it's wonderful cross-training and I won't be able to spin when I'm home since rural WA hasn't caught up with the spin fad yet.

    2. Re: "I really can't swim very well, but it's something I've been wanting to work on for a while because the idea of completing a triathlon has been percolating at the back of my mind."

      I hated the idea. But I had a back injury that was preventing me from running. I'd constantly have to take 2-3 weeks off. So I went swimming and the results were interesting. When I got back on the trail, it was like my stamina had improved despite the time off - so strange, yet so awesome. So I kept at it.

  2. Funny, that Lululemon dog picture has been the background on my computer for a month now!