Im a big advocate of life balance. Yoga is often held as a good way to relax, become flexible, and build balance for overstressed professionals. Since I like to put my money where my mouth is, I decided to try it. Being generous, I thought I would share the experience. After all, misery loves company.
Its better than weights
Until three weeks ago, I went to the gym. The results were decent, but my muscles are tight enough to play violin with my thighs. My physical therapist decreed, Build strength and flexibility! Try Yoga. At first, my vanity refused. A brawny manly-man like me, doing a sissy-man workout like yoga? Not likely. But then I took a good look at two guys in yoga class. They look strong. They look flexible. And rather than the muscle-bound hours at the gym look, they actually look healthy. Most importantly, they looked like they stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. Suddenly giving yoga a chance seemed … necessary.
Its great in the summer
At Baptiste Power Yoga, its summer year-round. Even in summer. They keep the room heated to 85 degrees. When I walked in, people were stretched out on their mats, already looking exhausted. Class hadnt even begun. They claim that heat promotes flexibility; when your body collapses from heat exhaustion, formerly impossible poses become trivial.
Its the heat and the humidity
Did I mention heat and forget to mention the humidity? They keep studio nicely humid. So humid, you sweat. A lot. Not sissy-boy sweat, like you might get running a marathon, or a 3-minute mile. No. This is real sweat, manly sweat. Enough to soak two beach towels through and through. Rivers of sweat which carve canyons in the wooden floor. Enough sweat to make your fingers into prunes. If Id had any room left for conscious thought at the end of class, I would have been totally grossed out. As it was, the sweat gently cushioned my fall as I collapsed on my mat.
Its all about posing
So what do you actually do in practice? Mostly you do what they euphemistically call poses. Most poses are based on medieval torture devices, minus the spikes. You gently flow into a pose and hold it. What could be simpler? Alas, the poses were invented by a placid 13th-century monk with a well-hidden sadistic streak. Assuming you can get into the position (I kid you not; he actually said, Now gently allow your foot to drift up and across your back and touch the top of your head), holding it is the fascinating part.
Try this: bend at the waist and put your hands flat on the floor, keeping your feet flat on the floor as well. Make sure your back, neck, and arms are in a line. Youre making a big triangle, with the floor as the base of the triangle and your hips at the point. Use a mirror to make sure your butts way up in the air and all the lines are straight. Simple, eh? Now hold that for five minutes. Keep those heels on the floor. Keep those hands on the floor. Press down through the heels and palms. Straighten your back. And breathe gently, enjoying life.
Congratulations. Youre in downward dog. What could be easier? After about a minute, youll start to pant, easily. Arf. Arf. After two minutes, youll be about to collapse. But youll be so placid, you wont be able to tell which body part is weakening. Maybe they all are. At three minutes, youll start howling. Now, youre fully in touch with your inner dog. When your muscles give out totally, collapse into my favorite: childs pose. In a cruel twist of fate, the English word child is Sanskrit for collapsed in a senseless, gasping heap of sweat.
Yoga masters hold these poses for decades. It isnt common knowledge, but the word YOGA itself stands for Years of Gravitational Agony. For obvious reasons, you wont find this in the brochure.
Its something everyone can do
They say Yoga is about process,not results. There is only body, awareness, and breath. We dont compare ourselves to others. That could get discouraging. The young man behind me is doing a perfect downward dog, but has lifted one leg, bent it at the knee, and is managing to rotate his torso 270 degrees with flat palms and feet. And hes smiling. shudder And pay no attention to the 90-pound woman to my right, who bounces onto one foot and bends so far backwards she can lick the middle of her upper backas she massages her scalp with her other foot. While the rest of the class tosses their legs deftly behind their heads, Im working to get my hands behind my head. But Im OK with that. Really.
Its good for you
That 90-pound woman is typical. Its always 90-pound women who swear by Yoga. Theres a reason. They used to be 215 pound men. Yoga did that to them. Its relentless, brutal, and takes no prisoners.
But you know what? In six weeks, that could be me, licking my upper back. It might take a special effects crew and dim lighting, but it could happen. After going four times a week for three weeks, Ive realized that the human body, when subjected to absurd torture, can compensate. My energy level is up, my posture is better, and Im walking better. Ive lost about 1/2 inch of waistline, and my abs are becoming visible for the first time in my life. Im noticeably more flexible, more relaxed, and am moving more fluidly. I have never done anything which has had such a profoundly positive effect in so short a time. And that keeps me going. And as they claimed, the more I go, the easier it gets. After three or four months, I expect to be able to make it through the entire class without taking a break.
The body is what I really want. A yoga body looks naturally trim and fit. Frankly, it looks healthy without being excessive. And a yoga master can lick the back of their kneecaps from a standing position. That has possibilities.
Im convinced! Sign me up!
Give it a shot. It really is amazing. But if youre going to try it, commit for a few weeks. Make sure you do enough to get to the point where you begin to experience moments of being able to relax and breathe. The first few weeks are tough, but theres definitely light at the end of the tunnel. You wont be able to see itthe backs of your knees will be blocking your viewbut youll be able to feel it. And your life will never be the same.
You can find Baptiste Power Yoga at http://www.baronbaptiste.com.
Authors note: The woman licking her back was an exaggeration, but not by much. The heat, sweat, and spending a third of the class time collapsed in a heap are all accurate. For now.