I recently found myself saying out loud nine words I never in my life thought I’d string together into a sentence.
- No, it wasn’t “Think I’ll have peanut butter just one meal today.”
- And it wasn’t “No thank you. I have enough golden doodle GIFs.”
Heck, it wasn’t even “I’ve filled my ‘You’ve Got Mail’ quota for 2015.”
The nine-word phrase that somehow escaped my lips was even more surprising, if you can believe it. It went a little something like this:
“This week, I practiced yoga at three different studios.”
(Fun fact: that’s also a haiku if you pronounce diff-er-ent as three syllables and channel your inner Barney Stinson to add “True story!” at the end.)
If you’ve ever seen me try to touch my toes but only get to about my belly button, you can appreciate how comical this is. But it’s not just my supreme inflexibility that makes my recently frequent yoga practice a surprise — it’s also the fact that I left the first yoga class I ever took convinced I’d never go back.
I had just moved to New York City, and as an inflexible and probably hung-over 22 year old, I decided to check out the small second-story yoga studio near my apartment on the Upper West Side. I didn’t really know what yoga was, but I knew I wanted to be fitter and I knew big city girls took yoga, so I paid the $20 class fee and went.
And it was horrible. Sitting Indian style (don’t worry, I can use that phrase, being 3/256ths Native American) was supremely uncomfortable for me, and no one thought to tell me to sit on a blanket or block. The instructor spoke in Sanskrit, not that I knew what what balasana (child’s pose) was in English, either. Worst of all, the teacher kept coming over to adjust me, which now I know can be extremely helpful, but as a frustrated and confused newbie, it just left me feeling embarrassed.
It’s no surprise I didn’t go back to another yoga class for seven years.
It was only last year that I decided to give it another try as I looked for ways to rein in potential injuries during the marathon off-season. And this time, I did it right. Instead of throwing myself right into an all-levels yoga class at some fancy studio with coconut-water on tap, I went to super basic “Intro to Yoga” in the basement utility room of the 92nd St. YMHA.
“Is this anyone’s first class?” the non-threatening instructor, Karen, asked as she introduced herself to the room. “Any sore spots I should know about?” “Does anyone not want to be touched or adjusted?”
She put me at ease, and as we moved slowly through the poses with ample guidance, I found I wasn’t just tensing up out of absolute fear and humiliation: I was really stretching. I left the 60-minute class with looser hamstrings, an understanding of downward dog, and a plan to come back every Tuesday until the marathon. And as much as I could, I did.
For about a year, I went to that 92Y intro class, but I was still too afraid to check out any more advanced classes at that gym or somewhere else. Shoulder stands? Headstands? Levitation? No thank you. I was content to stick with my basic poses and not push my comfort zone.
It was only when I received an e-mail from New York Road Runners this spring announcing its four-week Yoga for Runners series at Pure Yoga that I decided it was time to put my introductory practice to the test. I signed up for the course, arrived at the terrifyingly beautiful studio for my first session, and prepared to be humiliated again by a fancy teacher.
And you know what? I wasn’t. Sure, there were things I couldn’t do without a block or a blanket or a belt, but there were also poses that if I shook off my own “I can’t” attitude, I found I could actually do. Equally importantly, the class was full of other runners like me, so we ALL had tight hamstrings and hip flexors and an unhealthy competitive spirit. Those four weeks of practices flew by, and I left itching for the next time NYRR offers the series.
With that newfound confidence, when a friend recently suggested yoga and a brunch date in Union Square, I jumped on the opportunity. We went to Yoga Vida — where I’ve since learned Alec Baldwin’s wife teaches — and I survived something I never thought imaginable: a flow class. I didn’t know what it meant, but I now imagine it means something like “move positions so fast you’re always at risk of not keeping up.” Still, for the most part, my experience in the intro class had given me the skills I needed to follow along, and I left the class energized, proud and feeling like no one in the class had been watching me for comedic relief.
And for this stiff runner, that’s a win.
Have you ever revisited something you hated seven years ago to find your tastes have changed? Fancy wine not out of a box, I’m talking to you.