What I didn’t know about yoga.

If this sounds like it’s going to be a seriously navel-gazing post — literally and figuratively — don’t worry. But if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing, listen to this interview with Seane Corn, all-around amazing person, and take-no-prisoners yogi. She’s way more articulate than I am when it comes to yoga and its transformative potential. I, on the other hand, will tell you the weird discoveries I’ve made while doing yoga (ever heard of your psoas?), and how my students do yoga every day (Yep. It’s true.)

Exactly three years ago, because I bought a Living Social deal, I started doing yoga. I ran my first half-marathon and marathon that year. I started road-biking. And I lived in Colorado, where everyone does like NINE sports, so I thought I’d add another one to the list. You know — for my hamstrings’ sake, I’d do some stretching.

My first class was sort of wimpy. My internal monologue went something like this: “Um, root my tailbone down? I’m sitting. It’s as low as it’s going to go.” Or: “Slide my shoulder blades down my back. Well, yes. That’s where they are. On my back.”  I was relaxed afterwards, but what I really wanted to do was go for a run.

My second class was better. Desi, at Vital Yoga in Denver, led a 90 minute class and I was a sweaty beast afterwards — so at least that “gotta-get-in-a-workout” voice in my head was a little muffled. It was the weekend of the Fourth of July. So while I was all tangled up and constricted in eagle pose, heart hammering in my ears, Desi was talking about freedom. Eloquently, but with a decent dash of silly. (She’s still the only person I can think of who can use the word “booty” without it being at least a TINY bit cringe-worthy.)

Things improved from there. My sister and I got into a Saturday morning  yoga routine and it turned out to be a nice alternative to a boozy brunch. I ran a few times a week. Rode my bike for fun, mostly. I bounced from studio to studio around Denver and developed a rotating cast of favorite teachers. (There’s no shortage.)  Surprised myself and went to Costa Rica on a yoga retreat.

A mandala I made on the beach in Costa Rica.

A mandala I made on the beach in Costa Rica.

Which, a few hundred classes later, brings me to today.  To Thailand, where yoga is part of my daily life and I really can’t envision the rest of my life without it. How often does that happen?! With people, with anything? NOT OFTEN.

In that spirit, I wanted to document the oddities and wonders I’ve discovered through this practice of getting bendy.

So here goes:

Is your tongue smashed up against the roof of your mouth right now? Thought so. Relax it and your whole face feels different.

A year ago I saw a pull-up bar installed in a doorframe. I jokingly tried to do one. I did five.

Have you taken a breath that forces your stomach and/or chest to puff out in the last hour? In the last day?? Somehow we are breathing all the time but not really BREATHING.

When I do karnapidasana (that’s fancy sanskrit for a pose where your knees are next to your ears – sounds way more intricate than it is), I’m not kidding – it’s like the yogi version of listening to a seashell. Somehow my kneebones screen out the sounds of people and traffic and amplify the sounds of rain and birds and nature. It is INSANE.

Did you know that your shins can sweat? Real droplets?

When was the last time you did a somersault or a cartwheel or risked falling on your head from a very low altitude? I hope it was recent! A good tumble makes the rest of the world disappear. (Yes, feel free to insert bawdy joke here. Sorry, Mom and Dad.)

I was never a big road rager, but now I have such a complete lack of road rage that I may as well just drive myself straight over to the defensive driving course at the local senior center and sign up as an instructor.

Turns out yoga has nothing to do with being able to touch your toes. Today, tomorrow, or never. (Remember doing the “Sit N Reach” from the Presidential Physical Fitness Test? Test of flexibility and fake certificate from then-President Clinton — yes. Test of yoga — no.)

I have 900 students and at least half of them smile at me every day. I smile back. This is the only way we can communicate quickly and easily. My students also “Wai” me every day. Which – you guessed it, is very similar to the motion you make when you “Namaste”.  And in fact, the origin of the “Wai” in Thailand is Namaste. Thumbs at the heart or face, with a slight bow. If you’re following my logic, that’s a tiny bit of yoga, every single time. Many times per day, a hundred times per week.

You know how scientists are always telling us that if we smile, we actually feel better physiologically? Try it right now. And try sitting up a little bit taller. Did something in your super secret internal vault of feeling just rotate or shift a tiny bit?

What if all those tiny shifts added up to something bigger? (Just a what-if.)

But, what if?

2 thoughts on “What I didn’t know about yoga.

  1. Love your blog! Nice take on yoga from your perspective. Your mom and I grew up together in Sycaway, Troy NY. We met in kindergarten. Yesterday we had a reunion in Saratoga with Gay, Maria, Jan, and myself. She told me about your wonderful blog and so I am now a reader. I tried to convey the merits of yoga to the group (I teach yoga here in NY). I wasn’t too successful but will continue my pursuit. Would love to hear more about the temples and Buddhist life where you are. And the street food…a dream of mine to experience. Maybe someday. Anyway, keep blogging.
    Helen (of the OLV gang of 5)

  2. Helen – thank you for the lovely thoughts! I’m inspired by your reunion with my mom and the rest of the “OLV gang”. Thailand is wonderful, so writing about it comes easily, and if this post inspires anyone to try a downward dog or two, then that would be an added bonus! If you want to visit, there are temples and street food waiting for you on every corner, and I’ll happily be your tour guide. Take care, and Namaste.

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