Go Where the Body Leads: Starting a Yoga Practice
At last November’s Philly Bike Expo, I moderated a panel on endurance cycling. Many topics were touched on over the session, but the one that stood out to me was a conversation Todd Parker led about the importance of activities other than cycling in order to strengthen the body overall and to avoid injuries.
Months after the Expo, Todd’s comment stuck in my mind. Over the last couple of years, I had reduced my cross-training and focused pretty exclusively on running and riding. I was burning out a bit on both, in addition to feeling noticeable, though minor, aches and pains. I thought maybe a structured stretching regimen would help me, but could never find or make the time to actually do it.
Around this same time, one of my friends started going regularly to yoga and expounded on the powerful effect it was having on her. I didn’t really understand it, but I connected to her enthusiasm. I remember her saying that last year she was drawn to running, but this year her body called her to a yoga practice.
My body was also calling me to something new. I’ve always talked about trying yoga, but flexibility is a weakness of mine so I was reluctant to try. The idea of being part of a group yoga session – which I was certain would be full of flexy plexy people – was uncomfortable. But finally I thought why not? I’m a 40-something person and surely I have enough courage to show up at a yoga class.
Intimidated though I was about the whole idea of a new and unfamiliar activity, I reticently joined a local studio. I have been attending a combination of Vinyasa flow and Yin classes regularly (with a goal of four times per week) since May.
I began yoga with one goal – increased flexibility – but I see now how limited and even unrealistic my expectations were. Flexibility is certainly one element of yoga, but it is far more expansive than that. Through these classes I’ve learned about linking movement with breath. I’m developing a new awareness of my body and seeing how all parts of it work together to hold poses.
I am finally starting to glimpse that yoga is more than the poses. While other activities seem to foster competition and comparison, yoga does not do that. Yoga is about my body, movement, and breath on any given day.
Regular yoga practice has helped focus my mind on the current moment. It’s a time when I disconnect from work, the news, and my cell phone. It’s me in a room with others – working our bodies and minds individually and also as a community.
Yoga also promotes awareness, self-love, and appreciation for the body. This is unlike any other activity I’ve done in a group setting where it seems like competition and who is best, fastest, or whatever win the day. I admit I have days where I lose focus and look around, seeing everyone gracefully sliding into poses I can only dream of doing. But that is misguided thought.
When outside of class, I laugh at how my gangly body flounders. I can’t touch my toes, my back often seems unbending, my breath gets away from me, and occasional frustrations with my own progress arise.
Yet over the last few days, I’ve noticed beauty in my own movement and felt appreciation for the differences in all of our bodies – and even the changes in my own body from one day to the next. I don’t know that I’m actually flowing through class any differently, but my perception is changing.
What I’m learning through regular yoga practice is a long way from my initial intentions. My body was craving yoga, but not just for flexibility’s sake. I could not have imagined all the ways it has counterbalanced my other activities. Yoga is a far more complex journey that I understood – have yet to understand – so I’ll keep traveling down this curious road and see where it takes me.
For those who practice (or practiced) yoga, I’d love to hear your stories!