I'm not denying that yoga has endless health benefits - that it's good for your body and good for your mind.
I'm not denying that yoga can lead to increased strength and flexibility and decreased aches and pains.
I'm not denying that it can connect you to your breath and your thoughts and teach you how to be in the moment - to embrace discomfort and to breathe through the most uncomfortable parts of your practice.
But despite all of this, I still have never found myself super pumped about yoga. Instead, I've viewed it as a necessary piece of marathon training, or something I "should" do. To me, yoga has always essentially been glorified stretching. I hated the meditative aspects of it, couldn't sit still during shavasana, and got frustrated by my severe inflexibility. Hot yoga made me feel like I couldn't breathe, but during regular yoga I didn't work up a sweat and felt like I'd wasted an hour of my life.
But in the last few weeks, a fitness funk and a running rut had me willing to give yoga another shot. An acceptance that I can't go 100 mph all day, every day, gave me a new appreciation for "easier" workout days. A need to get out of my own head and to breathe deeply had me smiling and nodding along to mantras like, "the pose begins when you want to get out of it."
Basically, the stars aligned and the universe spoke to me and suddenly, yoga just made sense! Okay, that isn't even close to what happened.
What really happened, was my friend Sabrina forced me into going with her to a hot yoga class when we were in Pittsburgh for work. We found a studio (Urban Elements!) that had both hot yoga and spin classes and bought a $20 pass for 10 days of unlimited classes. In order to get the most bang for our buck, I reluctantly agreed to an evening yoga class one night when we got out of work on the earlier side.
Sabrina's exclamations of "I'm so excited" were met by my eye rolls, sighs, and "Kill me's." To say I was dreading 75 minutes of yoga was an understatement.
But then something weird happened - I kind of enjoyed it. It was a hot vinyasa power yoga class - but not so hot that I was only focused on the beads of sweat rolling down my arms.
The studio had The Twelve Laws of Transformation written on a chalkboard and I read through them before the start of class:
- 1. Seek the Truth
- 2. Be Willing to Come Apart
- 3. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
- 4. Commit to Growth
- 5. Shift Your Vision
- 6. Drop What You Know
- 7. Relax with What Is
- 8. Remove the Rocks
- 9. Don’t Rush the Process
- 10. Be True to Yourself
- 11. Be Still and Know
- 12. Understand that the Whole is the Goal
I realized that the quote, and the style of yoga practiced at Urban Elements, came from Baron Baptiste. Many people, including Ali, have insisted that I would like studios like Lyons Den who practice the Baptiste methodology. Turns out, those people knew what they were talking about!
I liked that instead of feeling like I was stretching during this class, I felt powerful in each of the poses. The heat really did loosen me up and I was able to get much deeper into the poses than I ever had before.
By the end of class, yes, I was wondering "How much longer?" but it went by much quicker than usual and before I knew it I was in shavasana (I still fidget incessantly) and the instructor was placing a cool, lavender compress over my eyes. It was heavenly - and I actually felt myself relax into the restful moment.
Urban Elements Power Yoga and Indoor Cycling - you the real MVP! It was after this class that I first had a "WOW I liked that" moment following a yoga class.
(Urban Elements' classes also use Ryder bikes, which rock from side to side like a real bike! It was challenging and awkward getting used to it - and I couldn't really stand and ride fast on them, but it's awesome technology that I think should be in more studios. It's an added core challenge and just all around closer to actually cycling outdoors).
YOGA TO THE PEOPLE
A few weeks later I found myself thinking, "I want to go to a yoga class after work."
The second the thought entered my brain and I acknowledged it, I was baffled.
I hate evening workouts.
I don't like yoga.
I had already worked out that morning.
What was going on?
I didn't really know what was happening, but I Googled the Yoga to the People schedule and made my way to the 5:30 p.m. hot yoga class.
It was much hotter than Urban Elements, and half the time I was trying not to gag as my own sweat rolled into my mouth in downward dog. But the flow was powerful and quick (I can be a real baby about holding poses for any significant length of time) and we did some of my favorite hip opening stretches - pigeon and lizard. The music was good, the instructor gave great cues and again I was scratching my head as I left thinking, "I'm really glad I randomly did that!"
(I was also really glad that Yoga to the People offers $7 classes!)
NEW YORK YOGA
And THEN I finally went to a hot yoga class at New York Yoga with my friend Kayla. I am not exaggerating when I say that Kayla has been trying to get me to a class with her for over 2 years.
I had 730+excuses not to go - but I finally ran out last Sunday and agreed that I would go with her to a 75 minute class (thankfully, I wasn't hungover or I would have 100% died).
Kayla has been a big reason I believed in the benefits of yoga for runners and athletes even if I personally wasn't a fan. For almost 2 years she struggled with IT Band Syndrome and was unable to run - a huge adjustment for someone who was used to training for and running marathons. I watched as she went from a super sad and stressed sidelined runner to a super strong and happy yogi. Yes, she always missed running - but yoga kept her active and strong and sane.
I don't know why I resisted for so long, when I saw the effect it had on Kayla right in front of my own eyes - but then I realized, "Wait a minute - I'm a super sad and stressed sidelined runner - maybe I should give this a try!" I finally paid the steep $30 for a class.
I was really nervous. What if I hated it and was trapped for 75 minutes and then had to tell one of my best friends that I thought she was nuts for loving this place? What if I needed to leave because I was going to pass out? What if they used terminology I had never heard before? I'm more of a "triangle pose" girl than a "Trikonasana" girl.
The studio was HOT. There were people who literally looked like they had been in a swimming pool at the end of class. I had 3 towels and they were all completely drenched by the end of 75 minutes.
But maybe even more than Urban Elements and Yoga to the People - this class challenged me and left me feeling really glad that I had gone.
It was a perfect mix of fast flow and deep poses. The fast flow got my heart rate up and had me breathing like I had just run 6 miles. The constant chaturanga had my arms burning in the best way. The times when we could go through a flow at our own pace helped me really focus on connecting breath and movement which is usually something I roll my eyes at during a yoga class.
And then there were the parts that I hate, but know are important - the poses that you have to hold for 10 breaths as your legs shake and everything screams "OMG STOP PLZ." For me, this is usually Utkatasana (chair pose). But more than the physical act of holding a pose that's difficult is the mental challenge of talking yourself through it and refusing to let yourself quit. It's also crazy that "breathing into" the areas that are the most painful actually helps!
A shower never felt as good as the one after my class at New York Yoga.
So, I think it's finally happened - I've started to find enjoyment in yoga. Here's what I've realized are the keys to a good yoga class (for me! Yoga preferences, apparently, are super personal and you might have to experiment for 2+ years to figure out what you like...)
- An instructor that gives helpful queues about body alignment, breath, and how each pose should feel.
- I like hot yoga, because it loosens me up and makes me (slightly) more flexible - and I don't like going to a yoga class and feeling like I can't do anything!
- I like a lot of ~flow~. What worked really well for me at New York Yoga was learning a sequence slowly, staying in each pose for a few breaths, and then being told "Now do that 5 times fast." This got my heart rate up (It was over 100 degrees!) and going at my own speed let me connect my breath and movements.
- Instructors that give different options are great - but I need them to actually TEACH the other options. Telling me, "feel free to go into _____ if it's in your practice" isn't helpful if I don't know how to even attempt the more advanced pose.
- I don't like chant-y music. An acoustic Spotify playlist with some Lumineers or Bon Iver, please!
- I really like a quote at the beginning or end of class!
- If every yoga class could have pigeon pose, that would be great. THANKS!
Does anyone have any other suggestions of yoga studios they think I would like? I know Core Power Yoga is coming to NYC and Lyon's Den, Y7 and Modo Yoga are on my "To Try" list - but any other recommendations are appreciated!