I finally showed up for that afternoon yoga class two weeks after having inquired about it and shopped for yoga wear. I was an hour early and right after I checked in, I got into the shower resisting against wanting to just stay under the hot spray. Just as I was done and out the room, students of the just-concluded class started to file into the locker area. It was obvious by the way they spoke with one another that they’ve been together in class a good time.
“There’s always a first time for everybody,” the woman on the mat beside me was assuring when I said it’s really, really my first time to do yoga (translation: I’m insane for signing up and very nervous). Before this, she was getting everybody inside the room to speak. She said she’s the oldest in our class. The first question she asked me was, “so, you’re in what school?” I wanted to say, “how old are you anyway?” But of course I didn’t.
The moment the lady teacher came in it was business. After about 15 minutes of invocation, she demonstrated the proper breathing method, Ujjayi, that is, from the belly. On her exhalations, her breaths out her nose (closed mouth) sounded like a bear’s short growls that I understood emanated from somewhere deep in her belly. I was, f! how does one do that? She then asked us to do it. I was, sh! seriously? I wanted to flee. In the next 1.5 hours, I’ve never uttered in my mind so many bad words.
She emphasized that we synchronize our breathing – “always from the belly” – in time with the postures and movements.
The first vinyasa was five repeats of Chaturanga to Upside Facing Dog to Downward Facing Dog.
On my third, I felt like I can’t anymore lift myself up. My body felt heavy and it weighed down on my arms. My arm muscles and lower back were quivering (this reaction I learned may be from dehydration which is unsurprising as water to me is coffee). I wanted to call the teacher’s attention that I was sorry I was unable to proceed. But, then I became aware of the others. They were exerting, they’re not at perfect yet but they were trying. So why shouldn’t I? Endurance using my mind is easy for me although I learned after the class that it’s not so much about the mind taking over but more of being aware of the balance of mind and body, and breathing.
Fifteen minutes into the sequences, I was already profusely sweating. I was surprised that my body has this capacity as I don’t sweat even if I ran a kilometer or walk the same in hot weather. Perhaps it’s that something opened up somewhere inside me from all that Chaturangas.
In the sequence where, lying on our back we lift our thighs and legs up to be perpendicular to the wall, I didn’t bother proceeding. I knew I couldn’t do it. Noticing, the teacher came to me and when she made to help me lift my legs up, I kind of screamed, no! She sort of jumped back. Realizing my reaction, I repeated, laughing, no…teacher. She left me, but then returned and made a move again to help me lift my legs. Then, I was more relaxed and allowed her to help me. She held me for a minute or two before leaving me. “Trust yourself,” she said, “breathe”. On my own, I found I could bring my thighs and legs to become nearly perpendicular to the wall.
The next more difficult vinyasa was the head stand, but since I was just beginning the teacher taught me the basic stand which I managed to hold to my surprise (that I didn’t break my neck, dislocated my spine, or something).
In the other trying vinyasas, the teacher reminded us to get our strength from “your core”. F***, I thought, where the hell is my core? In yoga speak, the abdomen area (includes pelvic floor) is where our core is; the center of our balance and strength.
Then there were the challenging jump backs and jump throughs in between the vinyasas, the latter came with the risk of landing face flat on the floor if body weight is incorrectly distributed.
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I was inflexible. I couldn’t reach my toes without bending my knees a bit. When I didn’t, my hamstrings felt like they were going to tear. I couldn’t also do some of the movements well, the ones requiring elasticity and fluidity. The teacher was assuring. “Be kind to yourself,” she said.
I also needed to develop strength in my arm muscles. I couldn’t lift my butt up off the floor without feeling as if my wrists were going to break.
Every time we brought our crown on the mat which was often (I still couldn’t touch the mat though), blood rushed to my head I thought a vein would burst. My heart has never pumped so hard. I waited for sharp pain I’m imagining would come from my surgery cuts. But nothing. I was afraid I’d keen over anytime. But I didn’t.
At the end of the 1.5 hours of rigorous sequences, I went out of the room in disbelief. I’m a bit of a hypochondriac and I’m like always anticipating a heart attack or disease invading my body. But I survived. Outside, the teacher asked how I was and we spoke a while. She said there was one other beginner (not in my class though) “but she still comes in” she said. “I’m coming back,” I assured her. “Good,” she said.
But the most important thing I learned after the class is that breathing is central in yoga which in turn will forever change how one breathes as well as one’s understanding and awareness of one’s own body and it’s connection to energies within and outside it.
At home, I waited for my joints to ache (like when it did after the initial gymnastic classes in college) but nothing. I was surprised. But my abdomen muscles did. I was still far from synchronizing belly breathing and transitions between postures and movements. I also developed a bit of a chill which was from going out of the building at 8PM in only a tee shirt as I still felt heated up inside. A bad practice I found out.
My next class is Yin Yang Yoga, a low intensity workout of meditative poses to help soothe achy joints, soreness, and the like, and facilitate cleansing. Perfect!