Many of you know that I am a big fan of yoga. I started taking yoga classes at West End United Methodist Church at the invitation of my friend Jeannie in January 2010. I was a little apprehensive at first but soon became fascinated with the practice and attended classes every chance I could (we met on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 p.m.; West End UMC is about 5 minutes from my workplace, and this suited my schedule perfectly).
Our West End yoga class was special. Abigail Redman is a super teacher who has the gift of breaking challenging poses into small, achievable steps. Our class was made up of a variety of people, from dancers to klutzes like me (although I think I rank as the klutziest person in my class). We laughed, sweated, and wobbled together through new and sometimes awkward poses. We’ve done silly things like lion’s breath, where you inhale deeply through your nose and then exhale loudly, sticking out your tongue and making a “haaaaaaa” sound.
Alas, the first lesson I learned is that sometimes classes come to an end. In September 2011 the West End yoga class was cancelled because Abigail had an injury that was first misdiagnosed and then took a long time to heal, even with physical therapy. She needed some time off to let her body heal, and she didn’t want to give up teaching yoga completely, so this was the easiest class to cut from her busy schedule. (She is also a grad student at Vanderbilt Divinity School who is working on her dissertation. )
Lesson 2: Life goes on. I got busy and didn’t do any yoga for about 4 months. By January I could tell a huge difference in my stress level (it had increased), and I decided that I really missed yoga. I don’t have the discipline to practice daily, and besides, it’s just more fun to take a yoga class.
So I found out when Abigail was teaching at her other place, The Yoga Room of Nashville. It took me a little while to work up the courage to go to a new class. You see, I’m a little shy about my ability or lack thereof to do some of the basic postures in yoga.
According to what I’ve heard from the 4 teachers I’ve enjoyed, the philosophy of yoga is to do what your body feels comfortable doing. Try to learn new postures, but do them gradually as your body is able. Abigail says if you can’t smile while doing a posture, you are trying too hard. This is completely antithetical to my overachiever personality, but I embrace this concept. I like to smile. It makes me feel happier, and sometimes doing it while holding an asana is just goofy enough to make my day.
Some other things I’ve learned from yoga include:
* Sometimes we all fall. I fell once when I was in a low lunge…just toppled right over as if I’d been shot. Not long after that, a guy in my class (who has improved so much and become a yoga fanatic) fell while he was in another pose. That made me feel a little better. The other time I fell, I was attempting to do a forward bend without distributing my weight evenly between my feet, and I rushed to scooch my feet up into my palms, which were resting on the floor. I learned DO NOT RUSH…because I immediately wiped out! My center of gravity shifted forward and suddenly I was on the mat. I didn’t even have time to be scared when I fell. Usually, I feel a fall coming, and it is as if I see it happening in slow motion. No slow motion in this case. Bam! I hit the floor. But all was well. I laughed it off, and though my shoulder was sore for a couple of days afterward, I was none too worse for the fall.
* Deep breathing and meditation are good for your soul. I’m not by nature a meditative person (very often), so the practice of breathing from my diaphragm and feeling the air come up slowly and expand my rib cage and then holding that breath for just a bit before exhaling slowly helps me relax. I know my heart rate goes down when I do this. I have learned to start taking slow, deep breaths when I get stressed at work or when I start having anxious thoughts.
I absolutely love my teachers’ admonishment to “let go of your thoughts.” “Focus on your breathing. Feel the breath as it comes in through your nostrils and out through your mouth.” “If you are thinking of something right now, just let those thoughts float away.” This sounds a whole lot like the practice of centering prayer, in which you dismiss your thoughts as if they were clouds and say one or a few words to yourself to center your mind on God.
* It is invigorating to try new things. It is vital to one’s growth to stretch oneself both physically and mentally. When I do yoga, I feel younger. My doctor has encouraged me to continue doing yoga as long as I can. She says she never discourages anyone from practicing yoga.
*I am doing something that integrates my mind, body, and spirit. When we put our hands in prayer position, I send a brief prayer of gratitude for this time to slow down and calm myself. After a yoga class, I feel very mellow. My husband says I am nicer to be around after yoga, so he gladly cooks dinner on the nights I go to yoga. Yoga is as relaxing as a glass of wine.
Well, these are just a few things I’ve learned through yoga. I am participating in a 90-day fitness challenge right now, and one goal is to get 20 minutes of stretching into each day. That has helped me be more intentional about practicing yoga at home or taking a brief midafternoon break to stretch out all the kinks I’ve gotten from sitting at the computer all day.
I hope that you will take time to become aware of your body and exercise it in a way that is both kind and challenging to you. Namaste!