All Tied Up in Knots About Yoga

Every time there is something wrong with me — whether it’s a cold, a bad night’s sleep or even just a crappy day — my mom has but one solution to offer: “Go to yoga.” It’s become a refrain of hers, and also something of a joke between us. Certainly, yoga couldn’t cure a broken limb or laryngitis, but my mom (who is, I might add, a fairly accomplished medical professional) is pretty sure there’s nothing else it can’t fix. Test tomorrow? Go to yoga. Not sure what to do with your entire future? Yoga, duh. Every day. Broken heart? Ooooooommmm it out.

And I hate to say this (mostly because it’s irritating when moms know everything) but she’s not wrong. About two years ago, I was a pretty regular yogi. That’s not to say I was ever any good at it — I’ve always been both graceless and a little bit wimpy — but I went, diligently, three or more times a week. I sat on my mat and meditated on gratefulness, I took the stance of many different types of warriors and trees and animals, pigeon to dog to camel, I laid happily in Savasana, and yes, I om’ed a-plenty. My hardcore yoga phase coincided with one of the most stressful semesters of my college career, and I took it like a champ. I felt awesome and totally blissed out a lot of the time, and even when I didn’t, I could still feel that yoga glow.

Don't hate me for being this zen and flexible.

Having written all that, it’s hard to say why I stopped going, but of course I did, for a long time. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that while yoga is amazing and makes all my limbs feel like the Platonic ideals of arms and legs, it also has the capacity to bring on deep self-loathing. I know this is not supposed to be thinking when I’m in class (I’m supposed to be opening my heart center and/or my chakras, which might be the same thing?), but I spend much of my mat time thinking, “Why doesn’t my triangle pose look like that girl’s? Curse you, hamstrings.” In fact, I think my biggest problem with yoga is people who are crazy good at yoga. Because not only do their bodies look rockin’, even in hippie-dippy drawstring pants, but they just have that sheen about them. That self-actualized, good-at-handstands, recently-been-on-a-weeklong-Costa-Rican-yoga-retreat light emanating from their beautiful yogi pores. And how is a high-strung, self-doubting, clumsy person like me supposed to stretch and tone in a room with such creatures and not feel a little like an ugly stepsister?

So, I quit. But lately I’ve been so freaked out about what comes next in my life, and feeling so anxious and ick, that I finally took my mother’s advice and got myself back to yoga. With mixed results. Here is a fairly accurate rundown of my first few active moments in my first yoga class in way too many months:

Ten seconds in: “Okay, downward dog. This feels good. Shoulder blades on my back. Pelvis lifted. Heels flat. Back flat. I can do this. Man, yoga is great. I feel great. Great, great, great.”

Thirty seconds in: “Well, the heels of my hands hurt a little, which means I am doing the pose wrong. Oh God, everyone can probably see that I am doing it wrong. It’s okay though, just squeeze the shoulder blades, use those muscles, power through.”

A minute in: “I am weak and terrible. By downward dog, do you mean drowned dog? Because that is the pose that I am doing.”

A minute and fifteen seconds in: Child’s pose.

Human pretzel-dom, here I come!

So, I’m glad to be back, I think. In almost every possible way, as my mother tells me over and over again, yoga is good for me — mind, body, and (whatever this means) spirit. But I also know it’s going to be a long time before I’m comfortable contorting my body into a human pretzel in front of twenty glossy, lean-muscled strangers. Luckily, any yogi will tell you that it’s all about the journey. Om.

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6 thoughts on “All Tied Up in Knots About Yoga

  1. YES. That IS the only distraction during class- the perfect yogis. The best postures are the ones that your head is stuck to your knee and you can’t see anyone else unless you want to sacrifice the benefits of that posture. Maybe I gave up too early? Thanks for this post- I’m enlightened. Like, yoga-enlightened.

    • I’m so glad you feel enlightened! I agree- I am best at poses that don’t require me to look around and see how much better everyone else is. Totally not the point of yoga, but there you have it.

  2. Heather, your competitive impulses when it comes to yoga definitely resonate with me–and no matter how good you get, there is always someone better! I actually briefly referred to this a little while ago on my blog in a post titled “The Importance of Pausing…or How I Went Blind.” Your post also brought to mind a recent New York Times article about the ways in which yoga can actually be unhealthy. I found it to be a suprising read. Based on what you’ve written, I thought it might interest you: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/how-yoga-can-wreck-your-body.html?pagewanted=all .

    • Thanks for reading! I actually remember coming across that NY Times article a couple of months ago- very interesting read. However, even though yoga sometimes makes me feel a little bent out of shape, I think overall the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks and I hope to keep practicing well into the future.

  3. I’ve heard SO many good things about yoga… but am an out-of-shape (unless you count round) old lady with absolutely no center of balance. Still, I really want to try yoga. Any suggestions for getting my feet wet?

    • My best piece of advice is just to try it out. One of the wonderful things about yoga is how welcoming a practice it is, so wherever you go, the instructors are bound to be helpful and receptive, and they’ll tell you the best place to start at that particular studio. I’d look for gentle or basics classes – those tend to be great starting places and usually require no yoga experience. Some studios also have introductory classes just for newbie yogis. Don’t start with the more intense forms of yoga, like Vinyasa, which tends to be really fast-paced, because those might scare you off (unless you’re really looking for a challenge). Yoga is so great, despite the angst expressed in this post, so I hope you find it as beneficial as I have. Good luck, and thanks for reading!

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