I remember only one pose from my first yoga class. Downward facing dog, or in that yoga language, Adho Mukha Svanasana. Seemed simple at first, got ugly in a hurry. My foolishness stacked the deck against me. I was a really fit guy, in what was considered good shape, but with a back injury. My chiropractors words almost verbatim: “Charlie, you can come see me, your doctor, for the rest of your life, and I will always take care of you, or you can do something about your back, see me a lot less and we can be great friends.” I asked him what the “something” was, and the answer was yoga.
Less than 48 hours later, I entered my first class. Of course I picked out the perfect class, a level one, designed for beginners…Yeah right. Not a chance. Instead I asked around the local gym for advice on taking up yoga. Being non-competitive, compassionate people, they sent me to an advanced flow class. Thanks guys, I love you too. I suffered from heat stroke, sun stroke (as in too many sun salutations), and almost had a stroke, but I will try to recall the story, hoping you can benefit from it, or at least laugh at my expense.
Let’s set the stage: of course I don’t know where the studio is, so I’m late. Zip up the stairs, already sweating, and into the room. First OMG moment. One hundred, I am not exaggerating, or more students in a huge room. Four guys, and 96 women, AND the guys are all skinny. I have an intelligent thought enter my mind: what if, just what if, this yoga thing is hard. I don’t want to look like an idiot, so I better find someone that looks like they just might suck at yoga. I kid you not, I scanned the room for this “suck at yoga student.” Then into the room, a gift from the heavens, a pregnant (8 months 29 days), woman enters. Lays her mat down, lies down, belly nearly touching the ceiling, and closes her eyes. I of course immediately lay my mat next to hers. She seems to be breathing heavy already and her eyes are closed. Poor lady is exhausted. Awesome, I should look great. Me, I sit up, and watch everyone talking, or stretching, waiting for class to begin. In walks the instructor, and an air of silence falls over the room. From this point on everything is a blur.
I’m sure he didn’t start out in down dog, but I can’t remember, or more likely I blanked it out. So let me describe what I remember. Down dog. That is what I remember. I also remember some of my thoughts in down dog. I remember thinking who in their right mind would keep holding this pose, what benefit can it possibly have. I also recall thinking, why the f@ck won’t he stop doing this pose so I can feel my arms again. I am sure we did other stuff, but then I know we did down dog again, and again, and held it for far too many breaths. These yogis breath way too slow, come on folks, speed it up. Did not matter, because we always ended up in down dog anyways.
By now we are 7 minutes into this 90 minute adventure, and I can feel something in my shoulders, and my triceps, and my hamstring, my calves, pretty much the whole back of my body beginning to burn. I guess it was that opening the teacher was talking about. Looking back, it was more likely the blood leaving my extremities in order to save the more vital stuff in my torso. But I forced myself to go on—and why? Well I had to. When I looked to the side, my 8 month, 29 day, heavy breathing, exhausted pregnant lady, was unfazed by this whole down dog thing. The audacity of this woman. Not one break. Not one child’s pose. Not one moan, or groan. Unless she takes a break, I of course can’t. I am a young, fit male, with way more strength than this pregnant lady. No way am I losing to her. By the way, I was not referring to her as a pregnant lady. It was more like, this F@&^%g pregnant chick better put her knees down or I’m gonna…well you get the idea. It was not one of my great yogic moments to say the least.
Seriously, what was the real reason, the real cause of my agony? Well quite a few things. One of the main things was my competitive mind. I had been very competitive prior to this. I had excelled at sports, playing in college and beyond. Competition was all I really knew. Compare, compete, win! That simple. So I did what I trained my mind to do for years. Not give in, compare myself to others, and do my best to win. Well, the pregnant lady won. Hands down.
After taking about a week to recover, I looked back and made a decision. I actually decided I was not going to compete in yoga. Most amazing, I pretty much have stuck to my promise. I have my moments where I wish I could get into some pose that my body is not open enough or strong enough to do, but those moments are short lived. I don’t let my mind get in the way of my practice. I do yoga for me. It is that simple. I take classes and could care less if I use a block, a strap, skip a vinyasa, take a child’s pose, skip an entire sequence, whatever. Don’t get me wrong, I do my best. However, I listen to my breath, and let that direct me. I refuse to damage the essence of the practice: mindfulness. Be mindful, and move within. Don’t let your ego lead you into injury. Allow your heart to make some decisions, and put the thinking mind on hold. So next time you see me in class or take one of my classes and I make light of difficult pose, or offer you a chance to take a break, or slow down, remember where I am coming from. I got schooled by a pregnant lady, and she still holds a special place in my heart. Namaste.