Last night, I did something I thought I would never do.
I took a yoga class.
In the past, I thought yoga classes were strictly for aging hippies and young people who “weren’t religious, but definitely spiritual.” I have no doubt that this is the result of growing up in a family where there were four “real sports,” five if you included golf.
My dad barely recognized soccer as a sport. To him, it was more like cross country with a ball. Also, apparently, it was for socialists. Needless to say, I wasn’t taking any yoga classes in high school.
But for the good of HealthyWay, and my fragile flexibility, I decided to take the plunge and go to a yoga class. My girlfriend was a huge proponent of the idea. She routinely teases me about my inflexibility and warned me it’s only going to get worse if I don’t pair my weight training with some sort of stretching.
I had to begrudgingly admit she was right.
The search started for a class we could both make it to after work. I found a studio in a quaint area of our city that offered beginners classes for a reasonable price.
Because I was a bit nervous about this new endeavor, I took the instructions on the studio’s website seriously. We bought some yoga mats and packed a bag with towels and water bottles. The site also advised to eat within two hours of the class.
Since the studio asked that you arrive to class 15 minutes early and it was about 20 minutes away (accounting for traffic), we didn’t have much time to eat. Unfortunately, the fridge contained no leftovers and the meal we had in the crock pot wouldn’t be ready in time. We didn’t even have the proper ingredients for a sandwich or salad (don’t judge).
That left a couple cans of soup. This is where I learned my first lesson. A hearty stew is not yoga food. I implore you: Eat anything else besides piping hot soup before yoga. Trust me, a can of Campbell’s Chunky sloshing around your stomach while doing downward dog is to no one’s benefit.
After scarfing down that ill-advised early dinner, we departed.
We arrived early to a beautiful brick building with an alley entrance way. As soon as we stepped in the door, it was like hippie yoga bingo. There were incense burning in multiple locations, statues of Eastern deities and everyone was barefoot and soft spoken.
If someone had been drinking a green smoothie, I would have lost it.
I quickly started to think, “What have I gotten myself into” and hoped no one would ask me about Phish or quinoa. I didn’t have much more time to fret, though. Soon it was time to start class.
We walked into a small room (also burning incense) with seven or eight other people and put down our mats. The instructor was very nice and soothing, and I thought this whole thing might be alright.
We started with a simple position and some deep breathing. There were a lot of confusing, and seemingly nonsensical, instructions like “lift with your abdominals!” and “push through your elbows!” I went with it, though, deferring to the expert.
Looking back, it seems like the start of the class was a bait and switch to pacify people like me. The remainder of the class WAS NOT soothing. It was tough. It hurt. It was just as much of a workout as lifting weights, except I know how to do that without looking like an idiot.
One thing became readily apparent when we started some positions meant to help stretch and strengthen our legs (the muscles and tendons around the ankle, calf and foot specifically), I was probably the least flexible person in the entire class.
Years of playing sports, lifting weights and never stretching had caught up with me. I started to wince and take breaks during what looked like simple positions. I caught looks of concern on my girlfriend’s face a few times, but I powered through because I’m good sport.
Also, I’m stubborn.
By far the most embarrassing example of my physical malleability, or lack thereof, came toward the end of class. We were instructed to lie flat on our stomachs then arch our backs and move our legs up toward the front of our bodies. Then, we were to reach back with our arms and grab our feet. I think it was called a “bow pose,” but it just looked like the worst rocking horse ever to me.
I was literally the only person so inflexible that I couldn’t do the pose to some degree. The instructor tried to help me. I think she thought I wasn’t trying hard enough, but after a few more tries I explained to her that my range of motion was truly that bad and everything hurt.
Luckily, the end of the class was near and we ended with some guided relaxation. Afterward, I started to wonder if they offered a remedial yoga class and tended to sore muscles I was previously unaware of.
Even after all that, I would recommend a beginners class to guys who have never tried yoga. It was difficult for me, but I’m convinced it can only help my other workouts. Obviously, it will improve my flexibility, but I can see it improving my spatial awareness, balance and muscle control.
Yoga can seem daunting for a lot of people. It can seem intimidating to guys, who may not be naturally flexible to begin with, or who see it as a feminine domain. Believe me, I understand being afraid to look silly.
That’s the great thing, though. From what I saw, there seemed to be a communal support structure, even to newcomers. No one at the studio was judgemental, and you only have room to improve.
Don’t let your hypothetical idea of something stop you from experiencing its reality.