Yoga 101

noun /ˈyōgə/

  • A Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation ( PS I can do that.  Okay, no. I can’t do that YET!)

OK, most people know what yoga is.  By definition, anyway.  And I know that as soon as you saw that, you conjured up your own personal assumptions, beliefs, and ideas about it, whether you practice it or not.

In high school, I didn’t know anything about yoga except that you know…earthy, hippie people did it.  And by the time I was in college and hearing more and more about it, the more it sounded really fascinating.  So, my freshman year of college, I took a class at UCONN.  The room was sort of dark, there were a bunch of people, and I had no idea what I was doing.  Worst of all, it really hurt.  I was like, “PSH yoga sucks. NO way.”

Then, my senior year, I decided to take yoga again. This time at a studio near campus.  The year before I had hurt my lower back in a truck accident where I was hit..bodily Ahem. I probably should have double checked on the class requirements, because again, I took the class and had no idea what I was doing.  Plus, it was overly crowded, and some old tall white guy with dreads was breathing really weird and making odd noises.  I was terrified and I actually remember thinking “maybe I can just leave.”  Well, the teacher kept coming over and pressing my body deeper into different postures and it hurt. badly. I SHOULD have just said “Hey, this isn’t working out for me, my back is in pain, so is that cool?”  Nope, instead I suffered through it.

Here’s another thing…I was in really good shape.  I was an Acting major and we had many dance classes and such that demanded that we be in some sort of good shape. Plus I worked out at the gym several times a week for an hour.  So I was very confused about this yoga business.  So I gave up.  I didn’t do it again…UNTIL.

I broke my foot pretty badly in 2009 whilst working on a film set.  It took surgery and months of recovery. I had plenty of time to think and I was anxious to lose the 10 pounds I had gained from sitting around unable to do very much. (I will note that my arms were incredibly strong and looked great due to using crutches,and moving myself around all the time with my arms.)  I talked to my surgeon as time went on and he agreed that exercises that were low impact on my foot would be best.

Well, even after I was able to walk, my foot was still swollen for several months.  It was something I just had to deal with. This meant no heels, no walking around for hours at a time, etc.  I tried going to the gym but it was more painful than beneficial.  But before I was even able to walk, I was given the go to try yoga before anything else.

This time on a whim I decided to google local yoga practices.  I found one!  Breathe…More LLC.  I was excited because it was only 10 minutes away. I wouldn’t have to drive to Manchester or West Hartford!  I went into class with my mother and I tried it out.  We took a gentle class to begin with.  I thought, “This will be so easy.”  It wasn’t.  I forgot how terribly out of shape I was. I also forgot that I was still in physical therapy and my foot would still need some time to stretch. So I took it slowly. I took class a couple times a week, and I slowly got my flexibility back.  Also, I lost the 10 pounds I had gained from sitting around and doing nothing.  Most importantly, I loved the studio!  A gorgeous studio, supportive teachers who encourage you , rather than berate you, in an overall peaceful and loving environment.

I first took class in the fall of 2009 and I have been a practicing yogini ever since.  I have taken all the classes, and I vary what classes I take depending on my needs, moods, and what my body wants.  Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Yin / Yang, etc. Sometimes all I want is to blast my way through yoga. Other times I like taking yin classes which allow you to relax into poses for a long time.  Sometimes I’m having a rough day and all I want is a relaxing yoga class.  I originally took it because it seemed like a good idea for my body. But what I’ve learned is that it has amazing benefits for the mind and spirit as well.

The day after Thanksgiving, Breathe…More was having a special class called “Find your abs” or something of the sort. It was a blend of yoga and pilates (Another class I have picked up fairly regularly) and holy mother of God was it intense.  It was one of the hardest classes I have ever taken, but it was relatively “easy” because it is mostly mental.  Pain, I mean.  Difficulty.  That’s one of the beauties of yoga.  You learn that outside forces aren’t what cause you to “suffer,” but rather, it’s the internal battle of your will and ego.  And once you can fully accept that and utilize that to your advantage, the possibilities on and off the mat are endless.

Yoga is also therapeutic.  When I first started out, one of the owners and my very first yoga teacher said, “Sometimes, stuff comes up when you do yoga.  You may find yourself laughing or crying or drifting to a peaceful state of mind.  Whatever happens, don’t judge yourself, and fully embrace what happens to you.”  Being an acting major, I knew that physicality has a lot to do with releasing emotion, so I was prepared.  Nothing happened. Until recently.

A few weeks ago, I took a beginner’s yoga class. I needed to clear my mind.  Obviously I’m not a beginner, but I wanted something a little slower paced and relaxing.  And something strange happened.  I was doing some poses to warm up, and I felt my eyes well up, and my breathing start to stagger.  I took a moment to acknowledge that something was surfacing, but I focused on my breathing and kept moving with my practice.  At the time, I understood immediately what was happening.  The instructor was going through corresponding chakras (energy centers in the body) with different poses.   I had not felt balanced in a few weeks, and I wasn’t dealing with some issues that had been bothering me.   Yoga helped me face them and wash them away, and then come to terms with the fact that I needed to remember to deal with things as they arise, not hide them away.

OK. This is more along the lines of what I can do. 😉

I’m not saying that everyone should do yoga.  What I am saying is we all sometimes need to try something (once, twice, maybe three times) out of our comfort zone if we want to grow.   Sometimes, you can really surprise yourself along the way. I hope you all have a similar experience, and I hope I have even more in 2012!  So here’s hoping you’ve had a safe holiday, and here’s to an even happier 2012!!  Cheers!