i used to be afraid of yoga

Four, That’s how many months it’s been since I first said I was going to try yoga.
Ten, That’s how many years it’s been since I actually tried a new type of fitness.
That’s what I kept thinking with my eyes closed in savasana (that’s right, I looked up the pose name).

I think it’s fair to say that I’m pretty athletic. Can I actually just say that without using conversational qualifiers? (Thank you, gender studies classes). Anyway, I’m an athlete. There hasn’t been a time in my life since I was 5 years old when I wasn’t training or competing in a sport. On my list of favorite things to do, ‘physically challenging activities’ is my absolute number one. I’ve played a variety of sports over the years (for the sake of this post I’ll consider things a sport that could be up for debate). I swam, ran, jumped, danced, played softball, basketball, and every sport they ever made us try in gym class. I probably missed some, but those are the things I did on an organized team for more than a few years of my life. I wasn’t great at all of them, but I have the athletic chops to do them with minimal embarrassment (except ballet – you can read about that here). All of that aside, I haven’t really tried anything new in a decade. 10 years ago my parents somehow convinced me that racing 3.1 miles through the woods would be a fun new habit to pick up and I trusted them. I was not great at cross country, but I loved the challenge. That’s the last time I tested out a new fitness habit. To be fair, running stuck with me and I just kind of stopped trying to branch out.

This morning I took my first yoga class. I admit I only finally signed up because a friend told me to “wo-man up” and try it. The best way to get me to do anything is to challenge me or doubt me. That is a fact. So I signed up and paid for the class online ahead of time to keep myself from backing out.

In college my roommates all signed up for a yoga P.E. credit. I refused. Full disclosure: my stomach growls very loudly and with insane frequency. I was afraid it would be terribly embarrassing in a quiet yoga class. There, I said it. So I avoided yoga in college. They all loved it. I didn’t feel like I was missing out. I still had running to keep me busy.

The stomach growling coupled with my fear of trying something physically challenging, and not being good at it, in front of a class full of people still made me a little nervous today. I forgot about both of those things within five minutes of arriving. The studio was about as tranquil an atmosphere as any I’ve experienced. I walked in to soft music and very dim lighting. I could’ve slept in there, easily. The instructor was incredibly friendly. She got me all set up next to the only other person who arrived 15 minutes early, a woman who was also fairly new to yoga. That woman sat on the mat next to me and talked softly about what made her nervous when she first started and how quickly she got over it. It was kind of funny how softly everyone spoke. I am not normally a soft-talker but it felt totally natural to have a near-whisper conversation while something Enya-like (not enya, but that’s the closest I can get) flowed from the stereo up front.

Once the class started I was really hyper-focused on trying to do everything right. I actually did a lot less looking around than I expected, mostly because I felt like a creeper every time I looked at someone to copy their position. So I tried to interpret the teacher the best I could and watched her whenever possible. I’m not used to teachers so much as coaches. The mindset is very different. The yoga teacher wasn’t interested in ordering us around, she just focused on making sure every single person in the room was getting the best possible experience. She addressed us as individuals in a totally non-threatening way, correcting things while somehow not making me feel like I was actually doing anything wrong. She even mentioned specific poses that would help me as a runner. It was totally comfortable.

You know what wasn’t totally comfortable? The actual poses. Holy cow. People think yoga is easy? I know I’m a bit lanky, but I’m a pretty strong person with reasonably well-defined muscles… and yoga is hard. I mean, I generally believe I can do most things a man can do (we’ve been over this too), but these poses were working muscles I didn’t even know I had. It was a legitimate challenge and I loved it. I loved that I could feel muscles in my back I never really feel. I loved that I didn’t quite have everything down and that the supposed resting pose ‘downward dog’ actually kind of hurt like hell. Because the only other thing that worried me was if yoga wasn’t embarrassingly hard then it probably wouldn’t be a good workout. Instead it turned out to be the perfect balance of challenge and relaxation, at least for me during this very first class.

Class closes in savasana. It’s calm, quiet, and students are supposed to imagine they’re somewhere ultra relaxing. I won’t go through the details of where I imagined I was during the pose. I feel like that’s some kind of personal meditative secret or something. I hadn’t realized, until then, just how long it’d been since I challenged myself to something other than an uncomfortably long or fast run. So I spent those few quiet moments reflecting on the insanity of being afraid to try something new. Something so non-threatening, something that makes millions of people around the world feel calm, relaxed, and good.

And I’ll have you know that my stomach did not growl even one time.

I can’t compare my experience to other studios. They might all be the same or they could all be very different. If you’re local to Greenville, SC and looking for a good spot, I went to yoga east. That’s on Old Spartanburg Rd. in Greer. You can find details here: http://yogaeast.us/

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