Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lessons I Learned in Yoga or Why Doing “Warrior Poses” Makes me Feel like Mulan.

I’m not new to yoga. I am, by no means a professional, but I have been doing yoga for a while now, by way of my personal trainer and private studio (i.e. my DVD and living room floor) for a couple years now. I started going to a yoga class twice a week a little over two months ago, and as a newbie to that whole new environment, I have learned several things about yoga that I would’ve never known without joining a class. It really is quite different! Every class session births a new experience for me, something new is always learned, and I always leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated…okay, sometimes I leave frustrated and annoyed, which definitely isn’t very “yoga like”, but I don’t think you’re supposed to admit that. (There has to be other people who feel frustrated and annoyed doing yoga right? RIGHT?)

Truth be told, I’m not a very “Zen” person. I have spouts of unaccounted rage, depression, and irritability. I work full time and go to school full time at night, so my free time is usually non-existent. Last semester I worked my normal 40 hours a week at my day job, but I took on a MUCH LARGER load at school with a full 18 units. (I know, I know, probably not the brightest idea I’ve ever had but I was trying to make a transfer deadline with my credits.) Needless to say, I about drove myself mad, like full on, down-the-rabbit-hole-“we’re-all-mad-here”-sort-of-way. Sure, by the end of the semester, I had gained 18 units but I had also gained a couple ulcers, a twitching left eye, and a couple extra pounds (I blame the stress eating…and the whole not working out for 5 months…) Determined to never experience that again, I signed up for a yoga class at my school, which would 
a) be conveniently located on campus
b) force me to work out during the semester (I can’t fail yoga!)
c) help me to develop healthy “coping mechanisms” for stress. 

I have been mostly successful so far, with some minor instances here and there, and feeling enlightened, I thought I’d share my experiences thus far. 

1. Yoga is about “mind & body”.
This is like THE catchphrase for yoga. I had always heard this; I just had never really given it a second thought. I played soccer competitively for 13 years growing up, so I knew that sports or “working out” was a mental game just as much as it was a physical game. I knew how to conquer my mind in the face of anxiety, fear, and discouragement, all things one must master when playing sports. What I didn’t realize was that yoga wasn’t about conquering your mind, it was about shutting if off completely, and listening to your body. I know that that might not make a whole lot of sense, but it’s true. Yoga teaches you to live in the moment, not to think of anything outside your body in the present time. Which very well might be the hardest part about yoga. Most of us have so much going on all the time, our brains are always occupied with something. Learning how to shut out everything and just think about your body and the moves you are doing is such a good skill! Learning to listen to your body is important, how to do feel at the moment? Yoga is about analyzing your body and constantly adjusting it throughout the session. Wouldn’t it be great if we listened to our bodies more often instead of our minds? Would they tell us that they need more sleep, despite the fact that Scandal is on at 10pm? Or that we need a break to just relax and blow off some steam? How about if it really needs that extra cupcake or is that just our mind saying it does? That connection of mind and body has proved to be very important!

2. Relaxation and meditation is what makes the world go ‘round.
Yoga always ends in “relaxation” or “corpse pose”, which I had been accustomed to doing. But beforehand, it helps you to get into the right “mindset” for a great yoga session. Turn off everything you were worried about before, not thinking about your mile-long checklist, and just enjoy a few minutes of peace to just breathe. I used to run into my yoga class, getting their 10 minutes early so that I’d get my favorite spot (yeah, that’s me in the far right corner in the back of the room!). I’d roll out my yoga mat, plop on my tummy, and scroll through Facebook for 10 minutes before class started. My teacher one day said we were going to start the first 5 minutes every day just relaxing and stretching on our own. I fell in love with the power of meditation at that point. A short amount of time can really work wonders on your stress level! I still get to class 10 minutes early, except now I lay on my tummy with my eyes closed for those 10 minutes, just relaxing (and if I’m being honest, sometimes falling asleep).

3. Yoga in public is awkward. Yoga is awkward, PERIOD.
I wasn’t going to mention the fact that we do yoga in front of a gigantic mirror. Yeah, I don’t need to see myself struggling red-faced through Updog or looking like an idiot as I’m constantly falling out of Tree pose (let’s just say I’m not the most balanced individual...). Watching yourself in a mirror doing yoga is awkward. Even worse, when you’re trying to avoid your own eyes, you end up staring at someone else in the mirror, whose eyes eventually latch onto yours before you even realized where you were looking. Soon enough, you’re the class creeper. Learning to focus on the floor or on a spot above the mirror has gratefully reduced those awkward stalker moments. This also happens with your two mat mates, which is what I call the two people directly next to me (of course, without their knowledge). Yesterday we were doing “Dead Bug” or sometimes called “Happy Baby” pose, which is hard to explain, but you’re lying on your back, legs bent and spread apart up in the air, reaching your hands through your legs and hooking them around the arch of each foot (like a dead bug). Awkward as it is getting into this position, my head eventually rested on its side, where I made eye contact with my mat mate, each of us uncomfortably trying to dart our eyes somewhere else…but because of the position, incapable of doing so. Awkwardly we sat in Dead Bug, averting our eyes but somehow continually making eye contact. This must’ve got to my neighbor because her hand slipped off her foot, legs thrashing open and thumping hard onto the mat. The sound reverberated throughout the Zen’d-out room like a fire alarm. We both immediately started laughing, trying but failing to stifle the sound. There I am, convulsing with stifled laughter in Dead Bug, desperately to hold onto my feet and ignore the darting laser beams coming our directions from everyone else in the room. Yoga is awkward people!

4. Couples should NOT do yoga together.
I’m not commenting about how it affects them as a couple, because I’m sure it’s probably great for their relationship, but it’s NOT so great for the rest of us. I’m sorry if this sounds selfish, but it’s absolutely the worst part of my day, evoking very “un-Zen” feelings from me and others in the class. Not because they just come to yoga together and are a couple, but because they FACE EACH OTHER THE WHOLE TIME, SMILING AND STARING LONGINGLY INTO EACH OTHER’S EYES WHILE CONTORTING THEIR BODIES INTO THESE AWKWARD YOGA POSITIONS. Seriously. AWK-WARD. You really don’t want to look at it, but it’s like a car accident- it’s so shockingly uncomfortable and scary that you just can’t look away. And sometimes you have no choice; when you’re doing a move, your head can only go a certain way. Again, the mirror is not your friend.

5. Doing “Warrior Poses” makes you feel strong…and a little like Mulan. (Okay, that rhymed. Keepin’ it.)
Every time we get into “Warrior 1”, I get a certain image in my head of Mulan at training camp, right when Shang starts to sing “Let’s get down to business…” and demonstrates the stick training sequence to perfection. For some reason, when we start the Warrior poses, that’s what pops into my head. EVERY TIME. I usually sing it to myself whilst holding each warrior pose and it makes me feel strong. It makes me feel like Mulan after she’s able to climb to the top of the tree and kicks all the boys’ butts. Warrior poses make you feel strong. And when you’re done, you feel like you can conquer the world! (or even that stupid test you’ve been panicking about all week)

[Author’s note: Several days ago, while getting into Warrior 1, as stated, I usually sing this song in my head. I was overwhelming tired that day, sleep deprived, over-worked, and on a caffeine binge, and apparently instead of singing it in my head, I sung it out loud. Yup. That’s right. Thankfully I caught myself after the first line (“Let’s get down to business”) and quickly threw my hand over my mouth. The whole class turned around and started laughing at me. I’m grateful to whoever it was on the far side by the nauseating couple that loudly sung the next line with exuberance. Thank you friend. Thank you.]

And last, but not least,

6. Yoga IS a work out.
Don't let people tell you that "yoga isn't a word out." It is. If it’s easy for you, then you’re doing it wrong or you’re not doing enough. There are always ways to make moves tougher and boost the work out. Sure, it’s not a 6 mile run. But who wants to run 6 miles anyway? Who actually enjoys running? (I’m convinced the only people who like running are actually aliens. No joke.) Sure, it’s less traditional “cardio”, but do 5+ Sun Salutations (w/ the alternative hard moves!) and tell me how you feel then! I’m almost always dripping in sweat after repeating the Salutations several times. It requires full body strength; working your core, your arms and your legs all at the same time. It’s NOT easy. But when you complete a session, you feel great. And it is most definitely a work out.

Yoga is a work out that challenges your mind and body. In our busy fast-paced world, learning how to slow things down, breathe, and focus your mind are important skills to have. Not to mention that stretching helps your body get rid of toxins in your muscles (just remember to drink lots of water to flush them out!) and yoga is all about stretching and strengthening your muscles. There’s no better post child for yoga than Jennifer Aniston, I mean, we’re all envious of her perfectly toned body. But yoga isn’t easy. And it’s okay to be frustrated and to struggle through plank and sometimes even down dog. Yoga isn’t about the end point; it’s about the journey getting there. A lesson I think we could all learn.

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