After making excuses for over 5 months, I took my first official yoga class.
I started enjoying Yoga in January 2014. After watching yoga videos on Youtube and reading articles online, I wrote a post for Skinny Ms. on the best six poses for stronger running.
In February, I purchased a sling for my yoga mat. Although I created my own yoga flow on the shorelines of South Beach, Miami, I knew it was time to take a leap in seeing if my physical, mental, and spiritual self-education translated well during a structured yoga class.
Even though the yoga studio was next door to my job at Barry's Bootcamp, before and after every shift, I made excuse after excuse as to why I couldn't go.
One excuse was that it cost too much money. Twenty dollars isn't a lot of money, and since I was on a budget with paying off debt, paying rent, and buying groceries, I validated this excuse. I also told myself I was too shy. But I'm not shy; I'm just an awkward introvert in unfamiliar spaces. I even told myself I'd be laughed at. But that didn't make sense because yoga creates a community and personal growth space where everyone is supported. I spent these past months growing my personal practice alone; now, it was time to make myself uncomfortable for an hour and grow within a temporary community.
I went online earlier in the week and found a beginner's class on one of my days off. I grabbed my yoga mat and sling, placed them on my back, and walked from my apartment on Euclid Ave to Purdy Ave.
During that hour of class, my heart opened up and I learned these five important things about myself.
1. I'm Stronger Than I Think
All my life, I've worked out through calisthenics, jogging, and weight lifting. I've always been fit since the 7th grade, but Yoga is wholly different than just moving, lifting, and pushing.
Yoga incorporates the minor muscles you forget to work on. These minor muscles build balance and stability that traditional resistance training and jogging don't offer. On the mental side, yoga needs focus and confidence to flow, breathe, and pose. And growing that mental side of my practice meant I'd be more creative, aware, and focused when it came to other hobbies and passions.
One of my biggest fears was getting into class and not fluidly moving or holding poses as directed. I'd spent these past five months doing my own thing, and even though I felt my body opening up, my balance improving, and my focus being heightened, I told myself the group setting would throw me off. And I believed this because I thought I'd be more focused on other people instead of the poses.
After about ten minutes, I accepted that I was here for myself. Although I was in a community setting, I was still an individual. Honoring my individuality meant focusing on what I needed to do for myself during class.
I steadied my breath and focused on how my muscles and joints felt. I took every suggestion on making a pose more challenging as an opportunity to evolve my mental and physical philosophy on how I saw myself. I wanted to be able to perfect every form.
Whenever I felt a bit of mental or physical resistance, I took a deep, controlled breath to find balance and focus and worked toward pushing the physical boundaries.
Surprisingly, I kept up with the class flow, long pose holds, and steady breaths. With the occasional adjustment from the instructor, I felt stronger and confident in my ability to self-teach, grow, and push myself past mental limits once I went back to my routine on the shoreline.
2. I'm Open to Change
Accepting the challenge of holding poses for longer than I was used to or making adjustments was important for how I viewed myself when dealing with a new and uncomfortable challenge. My shoreline yoga flow introduced variety and change, but within limits that I controlled. If I told myself to take ten steady, controlled breaths, that's what I did. But in the class, when the instructor asked for 20 deep breaths, my eyes opened wide at the challenge. But I learned that I'm open and willing to accept experiences that someone else guides me through.
I knew I was hesitant in letting go of control, but the yoga class taught me it was OK to let other people lead. I've been so used to the security, comfort, and control that routines offer. But routines lack excitement and limit your growth because you always know what to expect. But in yoga class, placing my left foot on my inner right thigh instead of on my inner knee when doing Tree Pose, like I've been accustomed to for 5 months, changed my perspective and willingness to correct, readjust, and challenge my commitment.
While flowing through poses in class, I realized I don't want to play it safe anymore. Instead, I want to experiment and push myself further to see what comes if I give an extra inch or two. So far, those few inches have been rewarding.
3. Community Matters
Fitness has mostly been my personal escape from the chaos, clutter, and congestion of New York City. In gyms, I've always had headphones on to focus and stay in my zone. Now that I was in Miami, I didn't need to escape as much. I only needed moments to transition. Enjoying yoga in the early morning along the shore made each day more peaceful.
It feels good to be alone sometimes. The sun rays kissing my skin and the sound of crashing waves brought me solace, comfort, and a connection with nature that New York couldn't offer. But in the yoga class, I was surrounded by six other people, and it felt just as welcoming as my solitude.
As the instructor guided us, I saw my fellow yogis working on the routines, poses, and breathing along with me. Although our bodies and breathing weren't in synch, we were still connected in movement and in the moment. When we shared our Ohm's, I felt their energy. And as I felt more of their energy, the experience stopped being about me wanting to be strong and healthy. Instead, I shed my ego so that the experience became about us, in a moment, radiating our own energy while sharing each other's energy.
I felt more alive communing and growing with other people in that class than the yoga on the beach has ever made me feel (Except for one instance. More on that later.)
4. I Want To Self-Express
I have a powerful voice that's become suppressed and soft-spoken because of self-doubt, misunderstanding, and lingering childhood trauma. I grew up with a lot of yelling around me, and to counteract that, I speak softly. But when I have to yell, I feel this immense release of energy–with a hint of guilt.
For the first time in years, I was vocalizing loud and free.
I felt liberated without any guilt. The deep inhales, along with the vibrant exhales, allowed me to release energy in a new way. Running, weight lifting, and calisthenics were short bursts of expulsion, but the ohms were expulsion with expression. I've mostly spent my life expressing myself through writing. But this vocal expression was invigorating and humbling. I've never thought of breathing as a way to express myself. And through accepting this new form of expression, I felt free for the first time in a long time.
I made a spiritual connection during the ohms: the expressive ohms were similar to the urge people get when they shout to the Lord, sing in unison, or yell from the mountaintops.
I need to find more ways to release and express myself vocally.
5. I Love Myself
As class closed out, we began our cool down from the present moment, back into our everyday lives.
As I laid on the floor, hugging my knees into my chest, the instructor told us to say something nice to ourselves. The first thought that flowed from my mind was, "You're amazing. I love you." And I smiled.
It wasn't a smirk. I wasn't shy about it. My mouth was wide, and my teeth were showing because I meant it.
As we laid there, I thought about these past few months and everything I'd been creating for myself. I also thought about all the progressive steps in realizing who I was, who I wanted to be, and how I worked consistently toward growth. I've worked hard all of my life, and I was proud of myself, especially for these past few months. I was proud that I didn't let the hesitancy sink in, proud that I overcame my self-doubt, and proud that it would start a new chapter in my life.
Find your new experiences and rediscover your strengths. Rediscover change, community, expression, and self-love. It's only one uncomfortable first step away.