“Yoga is not about touching your toes, it's about what you learn on the way down” -Judith Hanson Lasater (and thank goodness for that because my fingers were nowhere near my toes)
It is somewhat ironic that I work for a company that designs and manufactures clothing for active women, when I myself have not stepped foot in a gym in almost 3 years. I was a competitive dancer for most of my life, but it has always been a struggle for me to keep up with exercise and find something I actually enjoy doing. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not some type of lazy couch potato. I’m constantly busy and running around and I usually work up quite the sweat on the dance floor on the weekends. But now that I’m 30 and am apparently supposed to be “conscious of keeping a healthy lifestyle,” I decided it was time to find some sort of exercise I could commit to. I had always been interested in taking a yoga class and I figured this would be an easy way to ease myself into becoming a, “health conscious adult”. I took the plunge and signed up two of my coworkers (who are also new to yoga) and myself, for an Intro to Flow Yoga Class and the journey began.
I arrived at Live Oak Yoga Studio, equipped with my brand new, never been used yoga mat, feeling excited and nervous. Would I be able to keep up? Would all the other Yogis know I was a first timer? What if I fall over or start laughing? Would I be judged for not having a fresh pedicure? These were all very important questions I pondered on my drive there.
There was a woman standing outside of the door when I arrived. She was middle aged with a normal body type and had tattoos. My coworkers and I introduced ourselves and told her it was our first time doing yoga. She was super sweet and told us not to worry. We chatted about our jobs and she told us she works as an office administrator. I then asked her if she was a regular in this class to which she replied, “I’m actually the instructor”. What?! In my mind I thought all yoga instructors were some hippie chicks that drank wheatgrass, smelled like patchouli and bathed in essential oils (I later found out that my assumption about the essential oils was right). I was so surprised that she had another job and life outside of the yoga world. This would be one of my first of many wrong ideas I had about yoga and its lifestyle.
I walked into the studio and immediately felt relaxed. It was a small, dimly lit studio, with a beautiful mural of a Zen-like garden painted on the main wall. Sparkling string lights hanging around the room and the smell of essential oils really set the mood. This calming ambiance almost made you feel like you were in a dream. There were about 8 others in the class- all females, but ranging in age. Everyone had their own mat and I also noticed that everyone was dressed very similar. Yoga pants and tank tops seemed to be the trend here and my inspirational shirt helped me fit right in. (Shameless plug alert! Click here to shop our full line of inspirational tanks and tees.)
Zen Mural at Live Oak Yoga Studio
Bonnie started the class by putting on some meditation music and instructed us to lay out our mats and sit down in a comfortable position. There were a few other beginners in the class so she began with an introduction of herself and the practice. Bonnie told us that she took her first yoga class over 20 years ago strictly for the exercise and immediately fell in love with the practice. She began taking classes regularly and learned that yoga was helping her improve her life drastically. Her stress and anxiety reduced and for the first time she felt like she was finding herself and inner peace. This is something that really stuck out to me, as I have suffered from anxiety most of my life and am always looking for ways to help me with it (other than red wine).
She told us this class would focus on the synchronization of conscious breath and mindful movement. She did a very good job at making me feel comfortable, and stressed many times that it was okay if we weren't perfect at the poses. She then pulled out a small bag that was filled with essential oils (I told you my essential oil assumption was true). She came by and gave each of us a drop of sandalwood on our palms and told us to rub our hands together to get some warm energy flowing. Between her inspiring words, the calming ambiance, and the relaxing scents and sounds, I was really starting to get into this whole Yoga thing and was eager to learn more.
We started in the child's pose. The best way for me to describe this is kneeling down and then separating your knees as wide as your hips. You sit on your heels and touch your big toes together. You then reach out your arms in front of you. Bonnie kept reminding us to focus on our breathing. You’re supposed to take deep breaths through your nose and exhale through your mouth. She said to imagine fogging up a window with each exhale. Every time you exhale you're supposed to reach more in your pose to and try to stretch a little further. The breathing part was easy for me when we first started, but as we began to do more difficult poses I found myself getting confused. I wasn’t quite sure when to inhale and when to exhale when we were moving from pose to pose. Who knew breathing could take so much concentration?!
Me doing “The Child’s Pose” (or something like it).
For the next 90 minutes we were taken through basic yoga moves and poses including downward dogs, planks, and warrior poses. Each pose worked different muscles in my body and I was really starting to feel the stretch. My favorite poses were the pigeon pose and threading the needle- I could actually do them in their entirety and they gave me a good stretch. A lot of the movements involve tightening your butt and sucking in your belly button. Bonnie told us that yoga is one of the best forms of exercise for strengthening your core, and I can see why- the next day I felt like I had done 5,000 crunches.
Bonnie did a great job at setting the pace for the class as well as explaining and demonstrating the movements for us. I was surprised as to how flexible she was! As the class went on I really started getting into the flow and allowed myself to step out of my comfort zone. A few times I thought I was going to fall over and other times I couldn't even get my body in the correct pose. However, Bonnie and the entire atmosphere in the yoga class really made me feel comfortable. I liked this because I always feel so self-conscious when I go to the gym. It seems like people there are competing with who can lift more or run faster. Never once in the yoga class did I feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. Well, mentally I was comfortable; my body was a whole different story.
As I mentioned before, I was a competitive dancer for 16 years and I thought this would be my secret weapon. I was very wrong. I was trained to keep my toes pointed and have elegant and poised hands (my fingers still go into ballet form automatically when I'm stretching). Your hands and feet pretty much do the exact opposite in yoga. Feet are flexed most of the time and your hands are wide open. I was hoping my flexibility would come back naturally but I guess after not dancing for 12 years you have to retrain your body and muscles. This became apparent when I could not come anywhere near touching my toes. I decided that one of my “Yoga Goals” in this journey is to be able to once again touch my toes (stay tuned for updates).
Me at age 6 really embracing my inner Ballerina (not quite sure whats going on with my smile here).
The class ended with some mindful meditation and stretches. She had us lie on our back and close our eyes and allow our body to relax and almost melt into the mat. As I laid there she walked around the class with more essential oils and talked a very calming manner. Her meditative talk was very inspiring and helped me fully relax in my body. I really liked this meditation part and thought it was such a peaceful ending to the class.
The only complaint I had about the class was, at times, it was hard to follow the instructor's movements and concentrate at the same time. A lot of the poses involved keeping your eyes and focus down. It seemed like I was breaking the pose and my concentration every time I had to look up to see what the instructor was doing. I think as I get more familiar with the poses and flow I won't have to keep looking up every two seconds to make sure I’m doing them right.
How I felt for most of the class.
Overall I was very happy with my first yoga class. It was challenging at times, but this only made me want to practice and learn more. I loved how calming it was and really enjoyed how relaxed I felt afterwards- both mentally and physically. I look forward to learning more about this practice and hopefully gaining back my strength and flexibility. I also hope to ease some of my stress and anxiety through mindful meditation and breathing. If you have ever thought about taking a yoga class I would highly recommend you trying one. Most facilities have package deals for beginners, and that’s the best way to shop around for Yoga instructors and studios that align with your goals. I am so excited that I have started this journey and look forward to experiencing everything I can with yoga.
Me pretending to look like I know what I'm doing. My boyfriend says I look like Rafiki from the Lion King.