A lot of people assume that, because I'm a woman in my 20s living in New York, I must like yoga. This is false.
Of course, I can't really blame them. A 2012 survey by Yoga Journal magazine found that 20.4 million people practice yoga in the U.S. alone. Of those people, just 18 percent are men. So yes, yoga is incredibly popular -- and yes, it's primarily a women's game. Even Refinery29 has yoga Tuesdays for its employees, an event in which I have never participated during my three years at the company. Do it the right way for long enough, and you could even orgasm from yoga. Still, I identify more with this one woman who finally flipped her shit about the whole yoga thing than with anyone I've met at a class.
One popular argument is that I "just need to find the right type of yoga" before I fall in love with it. Well, let me tell you: I've been around the proverbial yoga block. I've tried vinyasa, hot, power, and even aerial yoga. That's right -- I hung upside-down like a starfish just to find me some zen. Because that's the allure, isn't it? Yoga's special bonus feature is an alleged heightened awareness of your body and mind. Truth be told, I crave that control over my breathing, a clearer sense of self, and that slightly spiritual connection. It is my white whale.
What really holds me back is that I'm just not into the yogi lifestyle, my perception of which is admittedly based entirely on stereotypes. Yogis are people who shop only at Whole Foods. They're that one jerk in the front row of class who's been doing headstands since we started warming up. They say words like utkatasana. What is that, even? (Spoiler alert: It means chair pose. You may be shocked to learn I don't know Sanskrit.) At times, I've tried to take a cue from my peers, but the studio is usually too dark for me to see anyone else completely. And by the time I've figured out the pose I'm supposed to be doing, the instructor's already moved on. Also, if we're getting really honest here, spending 90 minutes in 100-degree heat should involve a glass of alcohol and the beach.
So, in March, when the W Hotel invited me to try out its Fit Retreat in Vieques, Puerto Rico -- which is centered around healthy eating and celebrity yoga instructor Tara Stiles' Strala Yoga practice -- I was the perfect candidate (read: skeptic) for the job. If I was ever going to flip my perspective and find my yogic sense of self, it would be through a three-day workshop on a tropical island. Plus, the winter in New York was unbearable. They honestly could have lured me to Puerto Rico with the promise of a knitting seminar.
Truth: I went into this trip looking for reasons to hate on it. And when I was handed a glass of green juice upon arrival to the W, I thought I had found a reason. I've always been of the opinion that eating a salad trumps swallowing liquid kale. I took a polite sip, expecting to sneakily put the rest of the glass on a side table, and discovered that this juice was fucking delicious. What witchcraft was this? The server informed me it was Stiles' own recipe, called the Green Dream: spinach, banana, almond milk, a touch of ginger. I drank the whole thing. If this woman could get me drinking green things, maybe she could change my mind about yoga.
Then it was right down to business. We started that evening with our first yoga session. Stiles created her own brand of yoga in 2008 based on vinyasa, infusing calm and connected poses and an easygoing philosophy. It's all about soft movements (logical, straightforward transitions into new poses), having fun, and doing what works for you. "It's your yoga" is a phrase you hear often in a session. And that first night in Vieques, I liked it. I liked the "whatever" attitude. I liked that the playlist wasn't a meditation soundtrack. I liked that when I closed my eyes, I heard the waves crashing against the coast. I liked that the instructions weren't in Sanskrit. Stiles said things like, "Raise your hands to the sky." Or not. Whatever. How "island life" is that? In total, we did five yoga sessions -- and each felt better than the next.
By Vanessa Golembewski