For years, my older sister tried introducing me to yoga. She tried appealing to reason by explaining its numerous health benefits. She explained how, despite its seemingly ancient-jungle origins, it really was designed for anybody and everybody. She tried dispelling the false notion that yoga was somehow feminine by explaining how the high ratio of women to men actually worked in my favor.
Invariably, my response was something along the lines of, “‘Merica don’t play that! Take your dirty hippy ways and stretch your asanas back to India.”
I said this with no malice or hatred for India in my heart, it was merely my own stupidity. The only exposure I had to yoga at that time was through the popular ‘Street Fighter’ video game. Now, if my sister had simply lied and said yoga would teach me how to spit fireballs or extend my limbs in a fistfight, enabling me to sock flabbergasted opponents from across the room like an angry Inspector Gadget, I probably would have tried it sooner.
Between her constant sales pitches and her newfound habit of dropping into a yoga stretch in the middle of a conversation, I privately decided that yoga could not be for me. If practicing yoga meant that I wouldn’t be able to shut up about it, or if it meant becoming that weirdo that does leg stretches in line at the grocery store, then no thank you!
Eventually though, like oh so many other times in my life, a girl forced me to eat my words.
Desperate to impress and have something in common with a cute coworker at the time, I was suckered into my first yoga class at the tender age of 25. I’ll never forget, because it was the night of Obama’s first inauguration. I specifically remember thinking, “Should I stay home and watch history, or go stretch with my crush? Nobama!”
I only use the term “suckered” because she told me that this Hot 26 class was “kinda warm,” and “a little muggy.” She told me that the class was “pretty beginner friendly too”
I can hear experienced yogis laughing as they read this. Anybody practicing Bikram-style yoga long enough has encountered this situation at least once: the (would-be) boyfriends, drowning in sweat, clenched and shaking, snorting breaths and exhaling snot, struggling vainly to keep up and save face in a class full of yogi women-warriors.
I found two things out that night:
Firstly, this co worker, however cute, was a fibber. A healthy, beautiful fibber. The class was really hot and really humid, and it absolutely kicked ten kinds of grits out of me. My mistake was approaching this class from a source of ego, instead of just concentrating on my breath. Consequently, my physical body couldn’t keep up with my pride and I crashed and burned.
About a third of the way into class, I walked out, wondering if I had just been tricked into a cult. Who exercises like that? It was completely counter-intuitive to work out in sauna-like conditions. “I’m not crazy. They’re crazy,” was a much easier thought to digest than, “Man, I just got my @ss whupped!” I was angry and shaken, and I felt deceived. Ego is not just a delicious waffle with a typo.
After a few minutes, my “date” came out to check on me. She convinced me to go back into that swampy hell hole, even if it meant just sitting still for the rest of class. Humbled, and forced into a low gear, I barely survived my first practice.
The second thing I learned that night didn’t happen until after class. We were sitting in the car, waiting for it to warm up. I was trying to muster up the energy to tell off my coworker. How dare she lie about class and expose my limits like that? In retrospect, I must have seemed like a sulky kid at that point. Class had exposed something raw, and a strange energy seemed to be building within me.
I don’t know how else to describe it. I was buzzing, and in my pouty-ness, I mistook it for righteous anger.
I swear though, try as I might (and I tried), I absolutely could not articulate this anger. Despite the sweat stinging my eyes. Despite the deep fatigue in my bones. Despite my ego getting pantsed in a room full of middle aged women. The more I tried to zero in on the righteousness of my anger, the more clarity I had. For the first time in my life, my body was speaking to me, completely bypassing my conscious mind.
I couldn’t get mad at her because my body, however exhausted, had never felt better. “This.” It said, “Where has this been all my life?” My body had never spoken to me beyond my basest needs. I didn’t even know my body could speak to me.
I learned much later that the word yoga refers to the union, or yoking of mind to body. That night was just my first taste of an awakening that continues to this day.
I was buzzing from a sense of detox, but also from relief on a structural level, throughout my system. I was deeply relaxed and felt looser and more flexible than ever. I felt like I had been a crusty, dirty dishcloth, thoroughly scrubbed with hot soapy water and wrung out to dry, leaving me refreshed and clean from the inside out. My muscles felt like I had just walked out of a 90-minute massage instead of a sweaty box. There was a personal sense of accomplishment, having survived the perceived impossible. My ego was mad, but my body felt better. Better than ever, in fact, because of that class.
Although we remain friends, I’ve more or less lost touch with that cute co worker. But, I’ll always be grateful to her for starting me on a wonderful path that’s closely approaching its first decade marker.
I think of my older sister and her recruitment efforts often nowadays. I’ve discovered something that brings balance, health, beauty and strength into my life, amongst other things. I want to sing it from the rooftops. But usually, unless I’m preaching to the choir, I encounter the attitude of, “Yoga is for dirty hippies. ‘Merica!”
I have to smile now when my friends point out, with irritation, that I’m doing “one of those G*ddammed yoga poses again,” whenever we’re hanging out.