Friday, January 23, 2015

How I learned to stop scorning yoga and appreciate it's benefits

I never did school sports as a young kid, or any other kind of class for exercise or health, other than the required P.E. class in school. When I was 12 or so I joined a jujitsu school because my mom wanted us kids to be doing something active with our free time. At first I went to a few classes a week, and then I started going every day after school, sometimes doing as many as three classes in one day. These were highly active classes, always beginning with a challenging workout, and often including sparing drills (like kickboxing), as well as other strength-intensive training activities. Toward the end of class we generally had a bit of free grappling or sparing and grappling for the higher ranks. Basically, it was one to two hours with almost no down time. And it was FUN! It was exciting, got my heart pumping, and made me feel great. In comparison, yoga sounded so boring!

I didn’t know much about yoga when I decided that it wasn’t for me. I basically saw it as fancy-pants stretching for people who were too lazy to do real exercise or had too much time on their hands. I know that probably offends a lot of people, but come on, do you really burn that many calories when you’re not even working up a sweat? Plus, I’m not very flexible. I’ve spent most of my life not being able to even come close to touching my toes. So I had no desire to do something that I was probably really bad at, and didn’t seem to have a point to it anyway.

Yoga wasn’t just a passing fad, though. It stuck around and is still really popular. I continued to blow it off, until I realized that a lot of my peers and other people I highly respected, like the singer Amanda Palmer, made yoga an important part of their lives. And these were genuinely healthy, active people, so yoga for them was not just a lazy way to have a false sense of being healthy. What, then, was the appeal?

When I found out that my friend was a yoga instructor, I finally gave in and decided to give it a try. I really just wanted to support her by going to her class, and I was between jobs at the time so I felt like I had plenty of time to waste.

The first class was pretty much as I had expected. I felt awkward with my butt up in the air, uncomfortable with my body twisted all around, and overall just bored. It did not get my heart pumping, I did not work up a sweat, and I felt like I had accomplished nothing. We spent the end of the lesson just lying on the floor with our eyes closed, for god’s sake! I even heard one person snoring. If taking a nap helps you lose weight, I can easily do that for free at home! Despite this initial experience, I continued going occasionally to support my friend.

My new job started and it was initially pretty stressful. There were so many new situations, I was thrown right into everything with minimal training, and I was dealing with the energy of elementary school children! So when Friday rolled around, I was wiped out and really not feeling up to my usual workout at home. I didn’t want to just do nothing, so I had a bite to eat and then hopped on the bus to go to yoga.

This was maybe my third class, so I basically knew the flow and how to do the regular poses. I concentrated on listening to my friend, trying to understand as many Japanese words as I could, and focused on doing the poses really well. I thought about my body, where each arm and leg should be, how to make straight lines, keep my spine aligned, and hold different positions with strength and balance. My mind was empty of everything except what I was doing in each and every moment. I didn’t look at or think about the people around me, but concentrated only on myself. And when we “took a nap” at the end, I didn’t have various thoughts running through my head, but just laid there feeling connected to myself, the ground, and the background music.

At the end of this lesson, I finally got it. I finally understood why people do yoga. I felt so much better! I had let go of my stress and felt like I was now complete. I felt at peace, fulfilled, satisfied, and happy.

I’ve been doing yoga either in that class or at home about once a month since then. I haven’t had such an amazing experience again, but I think that on that particular day I really needed it and was in the right mindset to get the most out of it. I learned that yoga does indeed have benefits, so now I can appreciate it much more. While I may not always get the same fulfillment out of it, I no longer feel like I am wasting my time when I practice yoga.

(In case you were wondering, my friend who is a yoga instructor is Hiroe, and I take her class at Shanti Yoga Studio in Kurashiki, although she teaches in other places as well).

ADDED 1/25 - here's an amusing video about yoga that I think fits nicely with this post.

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