I started doing (I mean practicing) yoga several years ago after I quit the gym. When I sat down and did the math, I realized that the gym was way too expensive for what I was getting out of it. So, off I went to the local yoga studio; I heard it was a really good workout and that yes, I would sweat despite it not being cardio exercise. I figured I could squeeze in a couple of classes a week in between my work and my kids.
I could barely walk after my first few classes. It was an unbelievable workout, and I could see and feel my body getting toned and even stronger. (Note: I do not consider myself to be a strong person.) No amount of time on the treadmill or elliptical machine had ever made me feel that sore -- in a really good way! I did, however, feel a bit uncomfortable at the beginning of class when the other students chanted "om" or, harder for me, "om shanti om" and again when the class ended and everyone placed their hands in prayer position and bowed saying "namaste" in unison to the teacher. I sort of hummed a little nothing during that awkward moment for me, kind of like what I do when I hear a song on the radio and don't really know the words, but don't want to miss out on the fun.
I've never been a particularly religious or even spiritual person. I believe in science and use facts to prove my points -- like if you do a certain amount of downward dog and plank poses, you will build upper body strength. That made sense to me. But somehow over the years of consistently doing (whoops I mean practicing) yoga, I started to get into the spiritual aspect of the practice too. I started to bow my head and say "namaste" with the rest of the class telling myself that I was just so exhausted that I would say anything. But that wasn't true. I felt compelled to say it, and "om" and even "om shanti om." I waited to greet my teacher's eyes at the end of class as a way of saying thank you, and I meant it.
Things started happening to me, too. One day during Shavasana, the final corpse meditative pose in which I initially thought would be a good time to take a little nap, I felt a tingling throughout my body. I opened my eyes to find them filled with tears. The Beatles' "Let it Be" played in the studio at that moment, and my instructor later explained that Paul McCartney wrote that song in tribute to his late "mother Mary" who "in times of trouble" gave Paul that advice, "let it be." I actually needed to hear that very same advice from my late mother that day as I grappled with what to do with the serious struggles of a loved one.
I don't mean to go all preachy and GP (sorry Gwyneth -- loved you in Shakespeare in Love!) here, but I have to be honest with myself, isn't that what a good yogi would do? Yoga has really changed me, and I don't mean that it just helped stretch out my quads (but it has done that too). It seems true, what my teacher tells me, that you can practice (yes, I did say practice!) on and off the yoga mat. She tells us to be yogic and breathe in everything we do. So I try to do that and do you know what? It works.
When I'm emptying the dishwasher and packing my kids' lunches late at night in preparation for the next day, I breathe yogically (is that a word?) and it kind of takes the edge off. When I'm stuck in traffic late for a meeting, I breathe and try to not cut off as many people as I normally would have and that works too. Yet still, I do not really talk about yoga to that many people. Maybe I'm a little yogically closeted?
But a few weeks ago, someone who was interested in yoga asked me about it as she knew I went to class and she was thinking of trying it out.
"Are you flexible?" she asked.
"I am flexible, but I'm not strong," I replied. And then it occurred to me that I feel flexible, yet not so strong in yoga class, and I kind of feel that way in life. I tend to roll with the punches, move my schedule around for whoever needs me: my kids, my husband, my bosses, my extended family or my friends. When plans change, I make myself very flexible, but strong? Not so much. I need to work on that on and off the mat, and I am. Where I used to give up and drop down flat on my stomach after a long extended plank position, I now push myself to stay up and even add in that extra push up; I'm getting stronger.
I'm working on building my strength off the mat, too. We are all faced with trials in life, big and small, that test our strength and the more of these trials I face as I get older, the more I tell myself that I am strong. I'm trying to believe that and show my strength to people in my life that I need to show it to and to myself. I'm not falling flat on my stomach so quickly anymore.
And so are lots of other people who I've met on the mat and now sometimes hang out with off the mat -- my yoga friends. These students and instructors, too, are as varied and as awesome as the poses we hold in class. Some came to yoga, like me, for a good workout, others for the meditative and spiritual aspect of it and some because their back or neck hurt and they needed a good stretch. Whatever the case, they came to class and they add to the powerful energy in the room, into my practice and into my life.
See, as a person of science and now spirituality, thanks to yoga, I know that energy is shared and felt and passed on. I feel it in class some times and outside of it, and I hope that when I send out positive energy others feel it. After all, I've learned that we send out whatever we are focusing on in yoga to all beings everywhere. This makes me feel good when I am thinking of people I know and love anywhere and everywhere who need that energy. (Yes, I did just say that and I truly believe it!)
My late grandmother was a yogi, but I didn't know it at the time. I'm not sure she did either. When I visited her on school breaks as a little girl, I'd walk into her bedroom late at night and she'd be lying down on the floor, her legs up in the air as she breathed deeply. One day, years and years after the upside down grandmother nights, my yoga teacher instructed us to do this exact same pose called "legs up the wall." As we breathed in this position I had seen my grandmother do in her pajamas, my teacher explained that this restorative pose will relieve swelling in the legs and the ancient yoga texts say that the pose can destroy old age.
My grandmother did this pose almost every night and do you know what? She lived to be a very healthy and active 92-year-old woman. Old age was not in her vocabulary. Perhaps this was why. Whatever the case, I will continue to practice yoga and practice and practice and practice some more -- both on and off the mat. Thanks yoga -- you really do rock!