Posted by Sky Andersen on 3/25/2015 to
The last time I practiced yoga on a daily basis was my senior year of high school. We were required to take a winter sport, and after having looked at our choices, my best friend and I decided yoga was the one for us. During those three months I attended a two-hour yoga class (almost) every afternoon, five days a week. I was more flexible, my lower back pain from years of field hockey had started to subside and my ability to balance in difficult poses was impressive. Fast-forward four years. I’m in my senior year of college, and yoga has really fallen off of my priorities list.
As I begin adulthood, I realize that in order to cultivate a happy and healthy lifestyle, I need to be leading one. These begin with slow changes: learn to cook, pack my own healthy lunches, be in bed by a reasonable hour (be up by a reasonable hour) and begin working out semi-regularly again. Working out though can be a difficult thing to become motivated for and squeeze into your day. I hate walking 6 blocks to the gym, getting there and not knowing what do to do with all the equipment, running next to people who clearly do know what they’re doing with all that equipment…
I decided to give yoga another shot. I thought back to my senior year and I remember how good it made me feel, how strong my body felt. I never felt like I had to really try to time manage fitting yoga into my day or feel guilty about it, because I could do it wherever and was only taking a time-out from my current task at hand to relax my mind.
So, my search for yoga classes was on. I checked a local yoga studio fairly close to where I worked and decided that I would leave straight from work and attend a 5:30pm class. I scrolled through a couple choices and decided to go with “slow yoga.” In my mind I figured how difficult could slow yoga really be? It would be a great intro to ease me back into the practice, and by the second class or two I would be ready to advance back to where I had been four years earlier.
I arrived at the yoga studio, new yoga mat in hand. It was a cute little place tucked away downtown with checkered floors. The smell of lavender hit my nose as soon as I opened the door and headed down the stairs to the front desk. I breathed in deep, yes, this was exactly the type of healthy relaxation I needed. I was a few minutes early, so the instructor pointed me to a small waiting area with cubbies lining the walls where I could put my things. I took off my coat, winter boots and sat down on the couch as the other girls began to file in.
No one came over to my side of the room; I noticed they were all clearly very familiar with the studio and had their own specific spots to change and keep their things, all the while chatting with the instructor. Feeling a little awkward, I picked up a magazine and popped a peppermint into my mouth, taken from a bowl of candy in the waiting area.
As I scanned the scene around me while trying to pretend to read my magazine, I realized one thing very quickly. These girls were all extremely fit and good looking. Each one looked like the yoga Gods had come down from the heavens themselves and sculpted their muscles, given them their perfect yoga outfits and sent them off to take this 5:30 class. I looked down at my own outfit, my favorite pair of long stretchy leggings, which now felt too long, and a flowy long sleeved shirt, which now felt baggy. I suddenly felt more than just awkward. I felt insecure. Why hadn’t I packed a tank top? Why is the blonde yoga goddess only wearing a strappy sports bra? Is she going to put on a shirt?
I noticed the girls begin to head into the room we would be practicing in, so I put down my magazine and took a deep breath, trying to focus on that confidence I’d had four years ago. This is slow yoga; I reminded myself, chill out. I walked into our room and immediately it felt like the lunchroom in middle school all over again. There were only four of us, instructor included, and as I scanned the room I tried to quickly make up my mind about who to put my mat next to. Not the instructor, obviously, she was at the front of the room and I already had a pretty good inclination I didn’t want to be seen that well. The blonde yoga goddess had taken up her own side of the studio, claiming her territory away from the others. I siddled up to a sweet looking girl warming up and stretching who hadn’t said much since I’d seen her come in, but she looked up and smiled when I walked into the room. I assumed she had to be friendly. Plus, there was a giant column next to where I would be, blocking the blonde yoga goddess partially from my view (more specifically, mine from hers.)
I walked over, setting up my mat, and began following the other's lead and stretching. Can I sit and stretch out my leg and touch my toes? Is that a thing I can still do? Why don’t I ever stretch anymore? My thoughts chastised me for not being more prepared for this. The girl next to me stopped stretching, stood up and walked over to grab a couple blocks from a big basket in the corner. Do I need those too? What do you do with those? I decided to lean forward and check up on the blonde yoga goddess to see what she was up to, and if she had gotten blocks as well. Much to my shock, blonde yoga goddess was no longer sitting with her legs stretched out where I’d left her a few minutes ago. Blonde yoga goddess was now in the air. She took a beginning stance in a crouching position, her hands and feet on the mat. After a few deep breathes she closed her eyes and shifted her full weight onto her hands. She brought a bent leg up into the air and over her head, the other following suit but stopping a ways before her head. Mouth hanging open, I watched her stay in the position for multiple seconds. She then straightened out her legs and brought them back down to the ground. Our instructor had entered at some point during this move, and praised her for her stretch. That was a stretch? I gulped, and then realized I still had the peppermint in my mouth... I had forgotten it was there. It hadn’t reduced in size at all. I looked around quickly for a trashcan but didn’t see one, and as I stood up to walk into the lobby our instructor began class. I turned, peppermint in mouth. It didn’t seem like I was going to be getting rid of it.
The class size was small, and everyone was clearly well acquainted with one another. She began by asking us what we would specifically like to work on that evening. Both girls answered her, rattling off pose names and telling the instructor about different sore areas on their bodies that they would like to focus on.
When they were done speaking, I raised my hand and quietly volunteered my own information. While I used to be familiar with yoga, I hadn’t practiced in quite a few years and thought that I would probably consider myself a beginner. As soon as I said beginner, attitudes changed. The girls started giving me slight looks, and the instructor had raised her eyebrows. After telling me that it was fine and I should just try to keep up, but by no means should feel obligated to push myself, our instructor started the class. I didn’t realize in that moment why, I thought that perhaps I’d just stumbled upon an un-friendly yoga class, but the answer soon became extremely clear as to why I had gotten such odd looks.
I had inadvertently signed myself up for an advanced slow yoga class. I’m not entirely sure where I missed the ‘advanced’ memo in the description, but I had assumed I was going to spend the next hour in a slow and relaxed class where we would switch from easy move to easy move. In reality, that slow yoga class meant that we’d stay in advanced poses for much longer than we would’ve normally had to.
The instructor began with downward dog, and I thought okay, I’ve got this. We stayed that way for over two minutes. My arms were shaking; my flowy shirt had risen to almost my head, exposing my stomach and I still had that peppermint in my mouth. I have never felt more uncomfortable in a setting in my life, counting the seconds in my head, telling myself the instructor would have us do something else soon. I thought many times about simply getting off of my mat, quietly rolling it up and heading out into freedom. However, I’m too competitive for that. The blonde yoga goddess was too overly confident that she was running things and I felt I needed to give this a solid try… it had to get easier at some point, right?
You’d be surprised to know just how much having a peppermint in your mouth throws off your concentration. I tried to bite into it once, and it loudly cracked, breaking the silence of the room. My neighbor's eyes darted over to me and I knew I couldn’t allow myself to loudly chew on the mint for the next 45 seconds and draw even more attention to myself. So it stayed, not getting any smaller and always in the way when we were supposed to tilt our heads to focus and deeply inhale and exhale.
When the mint wasn’t making itself the bane of my existence, my shirt was. Every time we switched to a different move I had to repeatedly stop and pull it down, tuck it in, or pull it out. Never once did it just flow attractively, the way I had imagined it would when I played the scenario of this class in my head. I began to loathe my shirt, and even more so when it became hot. Why was I wearing long sleeves? I was literally sweating, having to wipe at my forehead and the back of my neck every so often, distracting me even more. I was breathing heavily, and felt like I’d just gone on a long run. The more I tried to hold in my breathing and be inconspicuous that I was having a hard time, the louder it got.
The instructor had us put one leg over our heads while using our opposite arm to hold the bulk of our weight and inhale, and then exhale as we removed the leg slowly from over our heads to underneath of our stomachs, trying to touch our knees to our chins. I’m not sure if it was because of everything else going through my mind or perhaps through this class I discovered matching others rhythm is not a strong suit of mine, but I just couldn’t breathe at the same time as the other three while trying to also perform the move. They would inhale; I would exhale. I would suck back in my exhale by inhaling suddenly and they would already be exhaling slowly again. Meanwhile their legs would have already moved away from over their heads, but mine still would be firmly held there.
If the instructor noticed my struggle, she didn’t let on. Thinking back, I’m not sure whether to be grateful, impressed or upset at her for this. Grateful because I was very clearly the odd woman out, fidgeting every few minutes while wearing a very pained expression on my face, and I was appreciative that she didn’t call me out on this. Impressed, because I knew I looked ridiculous and I couldn’t even see the full extent of how badly I didn’t match the others. Annoyed, because it was very clear that I was struggling, and her throwing me a lifeline would’ve been greatly appreciated a couple times in there.
Regardless, she continued on with class, ignoring my random outbursts of quiet laughter and shaking my head when the awkwardness of the situation I had gotten myself into became too much for me to keep to myself. Our instructor was like a well-oiled machine, and that’s exactly how she ran the class. There was a specific reason for every move we did, each pose being the building blocks for the pose after that. Had I known what I was doing and didn’t have to keep stopping to catch my breath or fix my shirt, I assume I would’ve thought her method of teaching yoga was quite good.
Nearing the end of the hour, we reached the portion of the class where we were supposed to lie on our mats, and this is when things really became fun for me. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but our instructor called out all of her poses by the Indian name, so for instance when we had to do “Downward Dog,” she would say, “Adho Mukha Svanasana.” I’m not sure about any of you, but I would’ve had a hard enough time with just the English translated pose names. I had adapted a plan early on though, and so far this hadn’t been too much of an issue. The instructor would call out a pose, and I would watch either her or my neighbor for a few moments to figure out what I should be doing, and then I would quickly copy them. When we laid down however, my visibility became much more limited. Once we were asked to close our eyes, all hope for me was gone. Every time the instructor would say a pose I would have to lift my head off of the ground and peek around to everyone else to see what they were doing, then quickly lower my head, shut my eyes again and do that pose too. I repeated this process over and over, until we were finally told to go into “Corpse Shavasana.” Corpse? Like, dead person? I exhaled happily and smiled with my eyes closed, deciding to enjoy the mint. I may have made a complete fool of myself throughout the entire class, but I was the master of Corpse Shavasana.
Although my second attempt at a yoga career began in an incredibly awkward way (and gave me incredibly sore muscles for a few days), it hasn’t deterred me from my goal of wanting to re-learn the art of yoga. I have seen the ways of the blonde yoga goddess, and I want to become her. After ordering proper yoga workout attire, promising myself I’ll call before each yoga class I take to confirm it is what I think it is and deciding to never, ever again show my face at a slow yoga class again... I think I’m ready to get back in the saddle- erm, mat and try again. If you’ve been thinking of starting yoga, whether you used to do it or have never done it in your life, I hope you only find humor in my experience and don’t let it deter you. There’s no way that amount of awkward luck happens to another person, so don’t worry; I took care of all of that for you.
Do you have an awkward or funny first time yoga story? Please share in the comments below!
By Sky Andersen