The first time I tried yoga, I was in college, around age 19, and I had the completely wrong idea about it. My friend and I bought a 10-class pass for just under $100 (what was I thinking, and how did I afford this on a college kid’s budget?!) to a yoga studio just inconveniently located to my apartment. We bought yoga mats, and we showed up to our first class early. I remember an awful lot of chanting, which of course made us giggle nonstop. He farted a lot during class, which made us giggle more. We never ever went back.
I tried yoga DVDs at home, but I never felt like I knew what I was doing. I also thought yoga would help me get into shape and burn calories and be some super skinny bendy girl. I was looking at it all wrong.
Over the next decade and a half, I tried it at home a few more times, never liking it well enough to practice regularly or attempt another class. It felt like a waste of my precious, scarce time. I couldn’t settle my mind enough to relax during yoga. And surely, I erroneously thought, if I wasn’t breaking a sweat, it couldn’t be that good for my body! I fell in love with pilates and walking instead.
Recently, I started taking a class that focuses on balance skills (I’ve mentioned it here and here and here), which kicked off with 4 weeks on mindfulness–something I’d been dabbling in for a little while already. And then I felt opened up to trying yoga again, when a new studio sprung up a block and a half from my house.
I thought, I’m 36, stressed out, and in desperate need of something to challenge and excite me. Why not yoga? It had been at least 5 years since I last tried it, and let’s face it, it’s been a rough 5 years (parenthood, while the best gift of my entire life, has had its challenges, to put it vaguely).
After my first beginner’s class, I felt a twinge, the slightest spark, of “Hey, I actually feel kind of relaxed, and like maybe I’ll go back. Interesting….”
I did go back, but mostly because I instantly felt a connection with the owner/teacher. She made me laugh, which is something I didn’t think was “allowed” during yoga. And she reinforced some of the concepts I was learning in my balance skills class, such as breath work/breathing. (I used to also hate to focus on my breathing, about as much as I hated yoga.)
Last night, I took my seventh class, and I started to cry during Savasana while the teacher read a beautiful quote about loving the child within. I know this might sound cheesy, but I felt like I released some of the pent-up negative emotion that had been eating away at my insides for so long. Let’s not get carried away–there’s still plenty of that left, I know! But I suspect yoga is the thing I needed to help me find a release for it.
On the walk to my car, I texted a friend who has practiced yoga for years: “Serious and embarrassing question: Is it ‘normal’ to feel on the verge of crying during yoga?” Her response began with “Um, YEAH!” and then explained a little bit about the emotional and physiologic effects of yoga. Another friend shared this Yoga Journal article, Emotions in Motion, with me.
When I read that, I wished I’d seen it sooner, because it gave advice about what to do to help you cope should you experience a breakthrough on the mat. Here’s what I did: Panic! Open my eyes, scan the room to see who might have noticed the tear rolling down my cheek. Nobody? Whew! Wipe the tear away and get back to what I was doing. Thoughts racing. Make them stop! I cannot cry in front of these strangers! Stop, stop, stop or I can never come back again!
And then I remembered all the different breathing exercises I’ve learned in the balance skills class and in yoga, and I began to focus on my breath again.
The strangest thing happened on the drive home from class last night–I felt happy. Not the kind of happy I was when I began the day with a cupcake for breakfast, either. I felt happiness in my heart. I haven’t felt that light in a very long time. I cried and laughed and sang in the car.
It’s because of yoga, isn’t it? I wonder what the 19-year-old me would think of the 36-year-old me.