When I was maybe 15, at least at an awkward and influential teen age, I attended a power yoga class at the local community center with my best friend. The instructor, Wendy, looked like a cross between an aging Barbie and those aliens in Mars attacks: Bulging, black-framed eyelids with sharp, protruding cheekbones and a mop of chemically dead bleached hair. I have always been blessed with flexibility, so it was easy in that respect. But I could not hold myself in a pushup position for longer than an acute inhale.
Since that first class, I sporadically attended Wendy’s power yoga class whenever my friend could sneak me in without paying, then more frequently as I got a job lifeguarding at the center’s pool. I got a little stronger and made it through most of the classes without giving up too easily in the more challenging positions. At some point I inherited a yoga DVD from the boyfriend’s mum, so I took to using that in my bedroom.
In second year university, I signed up for an ashtanga class before my intermediate reporting class. What a beautiful experience. Our incredibly well-educated instructor eased us and gently challenged us through an introductory ashtanga practice. Every week was the same series of poses, but every week I got better at centering my awareness, and controlling my breath as I bent over, kept my back straight and even learnt to do yogic handstands. I think it was the third class that he asked us all to smile through the poses. You know I felt stupid doing it, but before long it was the cherry on top of how good the postures left me feeling. My flexibility was stretched to new lengths and as I controlled my postures with deep breaths that sounded like a train whistle during the exhales, I fell deeply in love with yoga. I loved how wonderfully lost and absent-minded I was after each class (except for the time I was so loopy I left my new Nikes behind). I adopted the ‘live for this moment’ philosophy he taught us. If we anticipated the next pose and began it too early, we were chastised for not living in he current posture fully. I became more aware of what I ate, because a breakfast of sugary cereal left me famished and yearning for a more substantial energy source by the class’ end. An early lunch burrito filled with processed cheeses left me feeling bloated and empty. I became comfortable with sticking my butt in someone’s face as we all performed a wide-angle forward bend.
The class’ price went up in third year, so I couldn’t take it anymore. And besides, my instructor had opened up his own school (that of course charged even more). But I bought a few more yoga DVDs and a proper mat, so a few times a week (I try) to put on my spandies, tie back my hair, remove my makeup and begin a sweaty yoga session. (Everything’s sweaty in our apartment. But it turns out ‘hot room’ or Bikram yoga actually costs more per class than regular yoga, so there!) I have gently pushed some more of my limits and relished in the chance to be guided through a series of postures without thinking, without worrying, just doing the poses, breathing and being completely in the moment. It is something I look forward to doing when I am stressed, or when I have 45 minutes and some floor space to spare.
It may seem daunting, but I highly recommend the practice that comes with so many benefits. It helps prevent injuries in other sports by increasing flexibility, posture and the strength of supporting muscle groups. It helps de-stress after any kind of harrowed day, as long as you breathe deeply and in a controlled manner. It helps strengthen the body in ways no swimming, running or leaping sport could. Most importantly, it has the ability to be an individual practice. And I will continue loving my yoga practice until the day I die. (Which is likely to be later rather than sooner because the calming and strengthening benefits of yoga prolong lifespans)