Five Years of Yoga

My first time trying yoga was not a happy experience.

The team had just finished a gruesome forty minute run in the frigid, pouring rain, and we were soaked. Afterwards, Coach told us to go to a place none of us had any desire to venture to—the wrestling room. We had to take our shoes off before entering, and when we did our wet socks padded along the foamy mats. A woman in loose, flowy clothing stood at the front of the room and told us to spread out. For the next hour she coached us through dozens of advanced poses and positionings, challenging us by making us hold them for lengthy amounts of time and chastising us to dig deeper when we complained.

That day, we left feeling exhausted and overworked, accompanied by a new, acute hatred for yoga.

 

For the rest of track season, and the rest of my high school experience, we continued to practice yoga in addition to our regular running workouts. Only, this yoga was nothing like the relaxation and meditation I had heard about before, the calming music and breathing patterns. This yoga was athletic and challenging, with lots of planks and squats held for long minutes, and pigeon poses practiced until our toes started tingling and our hips went numb. It was all about movement, about exercise, about strengthening our bodies in ways that didn’t involve a weight room, or a track.

In many ways, it was dangerous.

Athletic yoga is a relatively new trend, though it’s not inherently harmful. Yet the way we practiced it created its own risks. We were briefly shown a pose and then expected to perform it completely and hold it for a long time. We rarely discussed form and when we did it was brief and unhelpful, a simple straighten your spine! or shoulders back! but never any personal warnings about collapsing the knee or internally rotating the arms. All we knew was to push ourselves harder, to sink deeper and deeper into the pose until it hurt, and then to sink a little further. It was fast-paced and vigorous, and completely unhealthy for people like me who didn’t know the first thing about proper form for downward dog or triangle pose.

Despite my war with yoga, I decided to sign up for a class this semester. After four years of intense athletic yoga, I was ready for the challenge and determined to improve. Imagine my surprise when the first class, an entire hour and twenty minutes, was spent working on only three extremely basic poses. My bewilderment only deepened when I realized how incorrect my form was for even the most simple movements. For once I had an instructor who cared less about how far we could stretch, and more about how successfully we protected our bodies from injury.

 

Of course, the athletic component to yoga is important. But there are other aspects that are just as significant. For one, practicing the right form is fundamental to success and growth in yoga. Not only does it allow you to actually practice the pose in the way it’s meant to be practiced, but you prevent the risk of injury and keep yourself safe. Additionally, the spiritual aspect of the practice is one that should never be overlooked. Meditation, breathing patterns, and quieting the mind are all crucial aspects that I never practiced until taking this course and actually reading about the history behind yoga.

Nowadays, I don’t shudder at the thought of unrolling my mat and practicing a few poses. No longer do I have to hold pigeon pose for ten minutes on each leg while lying on the floor of a high-school wrestling room. My instructor continually corrects my form and helps me make adjustments to promote the safety of my joints. I spend time on the fundamentals and only work my way up to the more advanced poses when I feel confident in my abilities to stay safe and healthy.

Athletic yoga isn’t wrong, but there is definitely a right way to practice it. A healthy way to practice it. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to grow from my past experiences and challenge myself in new ways. Ultimately, my experience has turned an old hatred into a new love, which is more than I ever thought would happen that first day in the wrestling room.

 

 

 

Image Credits: Feature, 1, 2, 3