When the news came Monday that the small quiet gym I’d been attending for the past year was closing, I decided it was time for me to move across the street to The Studio in Mill Valley and sign up for yoga. I had been working for a year with a personal trainer, but our focus was always on exercising body parts in isolation. I never felt as if my entire body was worked out and was aware of how tight and unfit my body was. In fact, I think in many ways the aging process has had more of an influence on my body than the cumulative effect of push-ups, lat pulldowns, crunches, bicep curls, and what not.
An avid yoga student for well over ten years, I know what it is like to live in a body that practices regularly. There is a grace and fluidity to your movements, you tend to unconsciously stretch your body at random points throughout the day. You are in your skin, feel connected. I worried that yoga might not be accessible to me, being almost four years older with hip and knee problems and a general disconnect from my physical and spiritual self.
Yesterday was my first class and I was nervous. A new studio, much larger than where I had practiced for years in my neighborhood where most classes had about 15 people. I was worried about being in an enclosed space with a group of people. I texted a friend and then my daughter for encouragement. What if I was out of touch with yoga etiquette? What if I had to go to the bathroom? Should I wear a mask? What should I wear (my old yoga clothes no longer fit!)? I settled on a pair of black leggings and a long sleeve blue top.
I arrived at the studio 20 minutes early just as the storm clouds rolled in over Mount Tam. Reached into the back seat of my car for my favorite blue and green yoga mat. It had been abandoned in the same place for nearly four years, gathering dust and dog hairs: I had to roll it out and clean it off before entering the building for the 75-minute Iyengar class.
The studio is on the second floor of a building that looks out over the marshes and the mountain. I went to the front desk and introduced myself as a new student just as the class before mine was letting out. The hallway was quickly full and I felt the terror of being around people in a tight space. Quickly hung my raincoat on a hook, slipped out of socks and shoes. I entered the oversized room. An employee was sweeping the floor with a large soft broom. The wooden floorboards were shining clean. I rolled out my mat in the back corner of the room near the window, right next to one of the air purifiers. I asked an older woman what props I would need and she took the time to tell me that I was in a safe space, that the teacher offered many modifications. Another person offered that she often opted to spend time in child’s pose.
It was a full class. I sat on my blankets and kept my eye on the door waiting for the teacher. It’s quite odd, despite the proficiency level of students in a class, you can always recognize the teacher — It is something ineffable, a sense of presence, something perhaps in how they carry themselves in the world.
As the class began, I could hear the rain as it began falling heavily on the street beyond the window. The room was quiet as the teacher led us through the initial sequence of breathing exercises to center ourselves into the practice, followed by three oms. Familiarity. I found myself surrendering. The teacher stood and asked for anyone with a problem that might interfere with their doing certain poses. I told her about my piriformis and she suggested I do downward dogs, triangle, and other standing poses with the assistance of the window ledge. I followed her instruction although it was challenging not to jump right in.
There were so many poses that were once readily accessible to me which I couldn’t even approach. I had a really hard time squatting and getting back up from a squat. My back shouted at me when we draped our bodies over a wooden block. I reclined on my bolster when they moved into inversions. All in all, not much of a workout.
I was back at the studio today for a Gentle Yoga class at 11. A totally fantastic class! We moved through all the warrior poses, sun salutations, goddess poses, bridge, a lot of stretching. The class was much smaller than yesterday.
The teacher read a quote at the beginning of the class. It went something like this: Breathe in the beauty, breathe out the horror, and be still in the tedium.
Like yesterday, I could hear the rain begin while we practiced and when I left today it was to a grayed-over world. But inside I felt excited, on the precipice. As if I was breathing more deeply and had let go of a lot of pent-up anxiety.
Namaste, guys. Namaste.
According to Yoga Basics:
Yoga is one of the best ways to stay fit and healthy. It can be used to improve health, flexibility, strength, posture, and so much more. It is not only a rewarding physical activity, but it is also a holistic lifestyle that promotes emotional well-being and good mental health.
The intensity will also be based on your current level of fitness. You will need to experiment and take different classes and with different teachers to find the practice that gets your heart rate up and builds muscle strength.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
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