A coworker asks if I want to join her for a yoga class. I’ve tried it a couple of times before, and never really understood what I was supposed to be getting out of it. Toned thighs? Enlightenment? Somewhere in between?
However, Lauren, being a yoga teacher herself, taught a yoga class in our office one evening, and my level of enjoyment surprised me. I loved it so much that I decided to go with her to a class in a real yoga studio with real yogis. Off we went to Yoga To The People, a beautiful studio space on the 5th floor of a rundown building in the Mission. The outside of the building does not prepare you for the beauty that lies within. After what seems like an endless number of flights of stairs later, we arrive at the studio door on the top level. We take off our shoes and enter. With wooden floors and exposed wooden beams, the space whisks me away to memories of cabin retreats in Tahoe. The sun, setting over the horizon, pours it’s rays into the studio, giving it an optimistic and welcoming glow. Lauren and I reviewed some poses and their names before the class began. Child’s pose. Mountain Pose. Downward Dog. Warrior 1. Warrior 2. Shavasana. During the class, there was encouragement to find your “flow” and focus on your breathing.
Here’s the first thing I have to say about yoga: It’s hard. If you think yoga is all stretching and balancing, you have some homework to do. I did my best to hold my poses as long as I could, but being out of shape, I sweat, I shook, but I did not surrender. I found my flow. I focused on my breathing. And I sat in chair pose with all the might my little muscles could muster.
The best part is at the end, as they dim the lights so low, and you lie there on your mat, feeling where you worked your body, and you get to relax, surrender even, because your body has given it’s all, and now is the time to appreciate yourself for it. The meditation bowls ring and your mind is clear and you’re free from all worry or expectations. A wave of zen hits you all over, and it’s so peaceful and so powerful. This is one of the few times you’re allowed to do nothing more than just exist. Just breathe.
We fret all day over how to be the best at our jobs, in our relationships. How we can reach our fullest potential. We read the news and hear about horrible acts of violence, cruelty, and greed. People are starving, animals are tortured, and the environment is in peril. And we’re left feeling hopeless. We live in a competitive age where if you’re not strong enough or skinny enough or tan enough or smart enough, you’re considered the bottom of the food chain, and someone with those attributes will come along and you will be eaten, replaced, forgotten. Some may describe this as motivation but if you don’t have balance in your life, these demands will swallow you whole.
But for one hour each day, yoga lets me be whoever I am, and that person is perfect the way she is.