Despite the icy roads and temperatures of 10 yesterday evening, and despite not really feeling the yoga vibe, I went to class last night vaguely aware I would probably be glad once I was there. The studio was warm and inviting, as was our mentor, Misty. I started feeling better the moment I walked in.
Class was small, and it had been a very slow day for Hilltop Yoga – Ingham county roads have been a complete disaster area these last two days.
The Monday night basics class usually has the same people, with a few new folks here and there. Generally, class is between 5 and 10 people, all of varying abilities, although most of us are rank amateurs who need a lot of guidance.
Misty has said she’s “falling in love with” the basics class she’s teaching, because she has time to stop and talk about the fundamentals of yogic practice, and because we ask questions. She gets to show us really important, life-and-practice-changing aspects of movement and breath – stuff we’ll especially thank her for down the road.
She stresses core muscle development and is not shy about making us work pretty damned hard. Several times during the class, I find my whole body shaking with the effort of maintaining a pose, whether it’s the top of the push-up (think Plank) or chair pose (Utkatasana) after a minute or two:
One of the things Misty likes to tell us, as we are all straining in chair pose or in handstands, is this: “I know your muscles are burning right now, telling you to quit. But there’s a point beyond this one you can reach – your mind is telling you to stop, but that’s just because it’s uncomfortable. You can do this for another breath, maybe another three breaths. There is surely a point where you have to stop, but it doesn’t come as soon as your mind wants you to believe.”
She’s right, of course. My brain wants to quit a few moments after the burning starts, but I talk it out of quitting, because I want to do well for myself, and for Misty. Last night, I talked it out of quitting long enough that my legs pretty much collapsed underneath me – which I consider a small victory. 🙂
In theory, once one becomes more familiar with the asanas, one is able to fully integrate proper breath control throughout the practice session. I have not yet reached this point, and am still not fit enough to keep my breathing slow, full and steady during the taxing moments. That’ll come.
I’m learning so much each class. I always thought I knew how to hang out in a top-of-the-push-up/plank position – I mean, how hard is it? Turns out there are quite a few subtleties one can easily miss that make it a lot harder on the body. I have a weak lower back (thanks, giant boobs,) and I tend to dump a little in that area. Too, I tended to let the weight of my upper body sort of passively rest on my shoulder heads and hands/wrists, which gets uncomfortable and difficult after only a few moments. By actively pushing up through my arms and shoulders, it relieves these problems.
Even though I’m only attending once per week right now, it’s still having a profound effect on my life. I can feel the jangling, train-wrecky nerves and muscles loosening and becoming less frantic. I am more easily able to shrug off stress factors. I can feel my core muscles strengthening. I am “remembering to breathe,” as the saying goes, and my shoulders are less hunched up around my ears, all thanks to Misty’s tutelage.
I’ve talked a male friend into coming with me sometime soon, and while he’s not necessarily keen on the idea, he’s willing to give it a one-time shot, just to make sure he’s not missing out on something he might enjoy. I’m looking forward to sharing the experience with him, and I would so love any of my friends to join me any time. I’m a little pre-embarrassed, though, that he will see me and my lack of fitness under duress, but I love the guy and we’ll have fun.
Getting to yoga class took me about 10 years of procrastination. I put it off and put it off, citing everything from good reasons (lack of money) to asinine (I don’t know where there’s a studio nearby) to fear (I won’t know anyone and I’ll suck.) Mostly, it boiled down to apathy.
There were two yoga DVD’s that sat, unopened, in my collection for at least 8 years, probably more. Were it not for Kirbay and the proximity of the studio, there they would probably still be. Happily, that’s not the case.
The poses and Vinyasas are becoming familiar enough I’m getting comfortable practicing at home – although after the sun salutations, I tend to just do whatever poses I happen to remember, in no particular order. I’d like to take an Ashtanga class to drill a routine into my head.
While I know I’ll never be as good as the woman in the video below, I do want to get better and stronger. This video blows my mind – I can’t get over how flexible and strong she is.
Yoga Goddess (link provided in case video below doesn’t load for some reason)
Misty doesn’t confine us to strictly the “beginner” poses – she lets us try new things, like Crow Pose:
Granted, most of us couldn’t get our balance for more than a second, but it was still fun and very challenging, and we were all grinning because it’s fun to try and balance in strange and new poses.
She puts us into handstands using the wall as a crutch at first, following the movements outlined on this website, which result in an L-shaped handstand like this:
Then, we lift one or both legs overhead, or just hang out there. Even something as simple-looking as this provides us newbies with a balance puzzle:
She is happy to let us do our best and encourage us when we don’t quite hit the mark.
To sing further praises of Misty, she does her very best to make sure we’re all being safe in terms of protecting our necks, rotator cuffs, lower backs, wrists – everything. She gives us gentle corrections and is always so positive and accepting. I’m hoping to take some private lessons with her after Christmas; the group classes are wonderful unto themselves, but her attention of course has to be split amongst us.
It’s a little intimidating to think about, though – her full attention will be on me alone, so every little improper hip-opening, each lower-rib droop will be right on her radar. I have to convince myself this is A Good Thing.
It is. It’s just… kind of scary. I’ll get over it.
The remarkable thing, for me, is how quickly flexibility, strength and balance improves. The results happen quickly, even though the practice is slow and steady.
If ever you have considered yoga, but haven’t quite managed to get the impetus, let me whole-heartedly encourage you to take the leap. Your body and your mind will thank you profusely. Age and fitness level are not something to be overly-concerned with. Let your instructor know of any injuries or health problems that might need to be taken into account.
Then, ease into your practice and be gentle.
It really is that simple.