Sunday, November 21, 2010

How I started yoga

I've read so many awesome blogs about fellow yogi's personal journeys for their yoga practices recently that I've decided to start my own documentation of my obsessive compulsive love with yoga :)

My previous misconception about yoga: it's a stretching exercise + some nice looking poses that don't look all that exciting (this was before I had ever seen pictures of arm balances).  Having above-average flexibility to begin with, I didn't feel like I needed to dedicating a full hour of class on stretching and holding poses with funny animal names.  Having never attempted the poses myself, I somehow didn't think a tree pose or a triangle pose would be challenging.  The few times I tried out yoga gyms the classes were challenging but un-inspiring.  Downward dog was such an uncomfortable pose - why did they call it a resting position? Why did the teacher make us do all these vinyasas that felt like an inefficient way to do push ups?  I was not in shape back then and probably shouldn't have gone to a power yoga class as a first attempt for yoga.  However, my second attempt was not a better experience: the teacher (a skinny middle-aged dude), who probably studied yoga in India, spent the whole class showing off how flexible he was at the front stage with advanced twisting, folding, and binding poses, then told us to try and copy what he did (which we obviously couldn't without any previous training or instructions). If this happened today, I probably would have walked up to him at the end of class and told him that he was unqualified for this job and should consider taking up yoga teacher training, and then filed a complaint to the gym manager, but I was pretty clueless at the time and walked out of class confused, with a decision to never get into yoga again.

Fast forward to about 5 years later, when I noticed 3 of my friends from different social circles had decided to sign up for yoga teacher training.  It's one thing to take up cardio kickboxing, zumba class, acro yoga or whatever, but I don't know too many people who would quit their day jobs to become  fitness trainers.  I became suspicious that there might be more to yoga than I previously thought.  Finally, at the beginning of 2010, with my neighborhood yoga studio offering a 2-week unlimited pass for $30, I decided to dive in and investigate why this activity of contortion and holding funny poses with animal names is converting my friends into yoga fanatics.

Word of advice: if a yoga studio offers multiple styles of yoga, it's probably best not to take a Hot yoga class as your first trial class;  a hatha or yin yoga class would be a much better option.  However, this warning might only apply to me, as I'm the only person I know who ran out of the hot yoga classroom  10 minutes into class, crouching on the ground and panting in shock.  I considered myself pretty fit by this time, doing lots of hiking, martial arts where my instructor ran the class like we were in the military, snowboarding etc.  I had trouble breathing properly in class (granted I was still getting over a cold and had a bit of a stuffy nose); every pose, while they looked simple, felt unbearably challenging:

Half moon pose - I never knew I would have trouble holding my body weight if I tilted slightly to the side.
Back bend - I totally crunched my lower back since I didn't know any better.
Chair pose - compared to horse stances they make us do at the dojang (martial arts classroom in Korean), in a hot room my legs shook like they were going to disintegrate and melt into pure liquid.
Tree pose - as someone who had spent the last 5 years doing kicking exercises three times a week, I was appalled that standing on one leg and trying not to move for 1 minute would make me want to drop to my knees and cry "I give up".

And you're supposed to breath smoothly through all this? What? I think that was when I ran out of the room.

So yeah, that's how I started yoga.

Where's the falling in love part? I guess I'll have to cover that in a later post.


  1. Hah, my first full yoga experience was a hot class too. I like your blurb on the side too, as my own dominant logical lobes are still in shock.

    I'm stoked to read more of your musings, eh?

  2. Thanks Jethero! The way you say it sounds so much better! Very accurately describes how I feel.

  3. Nice blog! I look forward to hearing more of your musing and thoughts about your life and practice.

    I think I can relate to at least some of your experiences. I used to practice martial arts as well (Tae-Kwon-Do) in my teens and early twenties, and I used to think that yoga is something that only old people do.

    Fast forward to about eight years later. I was in grad school, and had long since given up TKD (except for doing the occasional spin kick to impress/intimidate my friends). I stumbled into a power yoga class in the campus gym. I was totally winded at the end of the class, but I felt that something just felt "right" about this yoga thing, and I haven't stopped practicing since. To me, power/ashtanga yoga felt like martial arts training without all that competitiveness and aggression.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience Nobel. I don't know about the "without aggression" part. Sometimes I tackle a pose pretty aggressively, as in "I'm going to hold this one legged balance until the teacher calls the next pose even if my leg feels like it's about to explode". Probably not the best way to approach yoga eh? I'm trying hard to take it easy -- It'll happen some day, hopefully before I do any permanent damage to myself.

  5. V. good start - Svadhaya, Ahimsa and Satya are very good foundations for yoga and often get lost along the way after a few years of Downward Dog. You may also like to try "meditation" which is not often taught 1) because there is no money in it for the teachers; 2) Not many know about how to do it themselves let alone teach it well. Here is one you might like: NAMASTE

  6. Hi Yoga Mat, thank you for visiting my blog. I have indeed encountered a teacher who has been practicing daily meditation for over a decade. I learned a lot from attending his workshop and I use his guided meditation recordings to practice meditation at home sometimes. Yoga classes also serve as "moving meditation"!