I’ve been interested in it for quite some time. Finally having worked some practice into my life, my introduction to yoga has been painful and rewarding.
Over the last four and a half months, while I’ve been interning at MeetMindful, I’ve been introducing myself to a couple of mindful living practices. The reason for this has been two fold. First of all, my editor along with the co-founders of the site, thought it would be interesting to have mindful living content generated by someone who was just beginning to look into certain aspects of the lifestyle. Secondly, I genuinely like to try new things, and my newest experience has been with yoga.
It might be easy to believe that someone in my position would fake it, delve into a practice for just long enough to have an informed opinion on it; but that hasn’t been the case with my journey into mindful living. Having started a practice of mindful meditation two months ago, I’m at the point where I meditate almost every morning. After all, why wouldn’t I keep doing something that makes me feel good, clears my mind and replenishes my spirit?
Currently I’m only two yoga sessions in, and it has been excellent for my body and my soul. Don’t get me wrong; it hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been one of the most challenging physical things I have encountered to date.
Now I have to digress a bit to explain why it has been so physically taxing. You see, my schedule hasn’t allowed me to get to the yoga class that’s offered on Tuesday evenings in the rec room of one of our local churches, so I’ve had to rely on some DVDs that I borrowed from my mother, who is an active yoga student.
Until recently, I thought yoga was just one type of practice that promoted physical and mental health through a series of poses; I was wrong. During a recent interview that I conducted, I was made aware that there are many types of yoga, and that some are more physical than others. My curiosity led me to research how the type of yoga I would be learning with would be different than other forms.
On these DVDs the teacher is certified in Iyengar yoga, which is one of the more physical types. There are others that are more physically demanding, such as Ashtanga, but there are also forms of yoga that focus more on regulated breathing (pranayama) and meditation (dharana and dhyana).
Iyengar yoga demands precise alignment of the body and coordinates poses (asanas) with breathing to develop balance, endurance, flexibility and strength. My particular teacher (yogi) has a tendency to mix Iyengar with a few other forms that suit his practice, and to me it seems that his hybrid form pulls from some of the more physical varieties.
I knew, from the testimonies of the people that I know who’ve done some yoga and from the research that I did about Iyengar yoga, that it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew it was much more than stretching, which is what a lot of doubters and cynics think; but I never thought I would struggle so mightily.
I’m not the most athletic guy on the planet, but I’m no slouch either. I was, at the very least, decent at three different, physically demanding sports. I’m in pretty good shape, because I run and do push-ups and sit ups several times a week if not every day. I’m also fairly strong having worked construction for the last decade of my life. Before my first yoga session, I would have told you that I have sufficient strength and balance … wrong again, at least in terms of sufficient for yoga.
If you can picture what a fawn looks like when it is learning how to walk, you can imagine what I looked like trying to master yoga poses. During the first session, which, embarrassingly enough, was simply a walk-through of all of the poses to be used in later sessions, I visibly shook while attempting some of the asanas. Some came more easily to me than others, but several of them were difficult to do correctly and put stress on areas of my body that I had never stressed before.
As I pushed on through the lesson, as coordinated as Bambi, I felt pain, enough to make me want to stop. But I also realized that posturing my body in these ways, holding those poses while regulating my breathing and trying to balance myself, was bringing me a sensation that was simultaneously exhilarating to my body and relieving to my mind.
It was strange. The unfamiliar muscle tension was a struggle, but getting through these asanas while trying to keep my mind calm enough to have any success actually gave me goose-bumps. I was high from the experience, not unlike the rush of adrenaline associated with any demanding workout. My muscles, especially my legs and core, were tired and I was surprised that simply holding the poses could be so taxing.
In between poses there were short periods of rest, standing in mountain pose (feet six inches apart, hands at the sides) or sitting in staff pose (legs extended in front of the body, feet together). During these moments, my muscles relaxed and so did my thought processes. I felt extreme relief and a wonderful sense of calm.
My overall impression of yoga, what little impression I might be qualified to have thus far, is that it is akin to exercising and meditating at the same time, if that makes any sense. It tests the body and the mind but brings a feeling of serenity and peace at certain intervals.
At the end of the first session, the instructor tells you to lay in corpse pose, which is supposed to be completely relaxed, and simply breathe. This was even more meditative than the aforementioned poses, and after this relaxation period, I felt limber and energized.
I conducted my second session just yesterday. I was slightly more successful, and I do mean slightly. Although I was already familiar with the poses, the suggested morning routine had much less down time involved and the muscles in my legs cramped a few times while trying to achieve proper posture in standing poses.
When the 20 minutes session had ended, I again felt loosened up and full of energy, almost cleansed. I plan to continue with a practice, maybe once or twice a week for a while. I’d like to improve my flexibility and balance and make some strides in properly achieving some of the asanas and becoming more present in the moment. Maybe I’ll even get to a studio soon, so a flesh and blood practitioner can instruct me on what I’m doing right and wrong; I’m sure I have quite a bit that I’m doing wrong.
Yoga seems to be something that I can work into the exercise routine I already have, and perhaps it will benefit me by making me stronger and better able to engage in the other workouts I do. It would also be interesting to try a few different styles to see what works best for me. Regardless of where my exploration takes me, yoga (Iyengar for now) seems to be worthwhile. Who knows? With a little practice and determination, I might learn to walk sooner than I think.[images: via Nicholas A. Tonelli on flickr]