Saturday, May 11, 2013

Popping My Yoga Cherry

Down dog, cat, cow, starfish, crane, snake, and camel.  No, I'm not describing a trip to the zoo - those are some of the positions from my yoga class!

There is so much to relay about my health in the past months, but let's just say it's been a huge priority.  2013 is the year I'm reclaiming my wellness, both physically and mentally.  What better way of doing that than taking up yoga, which focuses on the body-mind-spirit connection.

I've always been curious about yoga.  There's no doubt the benefits are extensive and well documented, and people who practice yoga have so many good things to say about it.  I tried it once in college off of a DVD and all I remember was frustration and doubt over whether I was doing it right.  I vowed that if I ever attempted yoga again it would be under the instruction of a teacher.

Our local community college (Kirkwood) offers continuing education classes from cooking and art to fitness and professional certifications.  In the past three years we've been living here, I'd always flip through the catalog but ultimately decide we couldn't afford to spend money on leisure classes when we were pressed for gas or groceries. But our new income situation has made it possible to invest in my health.

So since January, I've been taking a yoga class once a week for 60 minutes.  It's been a rewarding experience and I've really fallen in love with it!  It's called Yoga for Everybody and includes a ton of modifications to accommodate your fitness level.  Over the 8 weeks, you progress from basic moves to more advanced ones.  The instructor is really pleasant and I love how she emphasizes taking things at your own pace and not comparing yourself to others.  It makes the classroom experience accessible and non-intimidating.

It's also cheap.  I'm only paying $49 for 8 sessions, barely $6 a class.  And it's at a gym on my side of town, so I don't have to drive far to get there.  #Winning.   

To be honest, I was never flexible.  Even at my peak fitness in high school, when I was on the basketball and tennis teams, our gym classes were robust, and I barely weight 120 pounds, I could never touch my toes.  Does anyone remember having to take the Presidential Fitness Test in the 90s?  One of the activities was the sit and reach - I ALWAYS failed.  Even with someone (gently) pushing on my back, my fingers never got past my ankles.

Side note - Google says the Presidential Fitness Test still exists!  I wonder if schools even do it anymore.  Looking back, our high school has an AMAZING gym class program.  We played every sport under the sun and were tested on the rules, learned just how awkward dancing can be (ever tried to polka with someone who's over 6 feet?  Impossible and slightly dangerous), followed Tae Bo tapes, had canoeing and fishing units out on the lake, practiced archery and cross-country skiing on the back field, and tackled weight circuits.  I guess not every school does this, but I'm grateful for all of the different opportunities (though my younger sister tells me she despised every moment of it, lol).

Anyways, when you're overweight, can be mentally but not physically flexible, and your body aches from sitting in an office chair all day, yoga can seem intimidating.  You think, holy hell, my body can't do that! How in the world am I supposed to get into that position?!  You want me to bend where?!?!

What you have to know about yoga, particularly a beginner's class, is you don't just twist yourself into a pretzel from the onset.  The moves are actually designed to flow into one another, so muscles are warming up and stretching before you go diving into something.  There's a rhythm to the poses and each one works a different part of your body.  Some are for balance, others push your flexibility, some target strength building, all require your concentration.

As I work on being physically active, I've found the types of exercises I gravitate to the most are ones where I can zone out.  Biking, walking, hiking, and yoga require just enough focus that you are there and in the moment but not thinking about your grocery list or what's on the work agenda the next day.  For someone with an active mind that's hard to shut off, this is a true blessing. 

I am almost at the end of my second round of this class and I've really seen some improvement.  I still can't sit and reach my toes, but I can bend over when standing and grab them.  I still can't get my heels to touch the ground when we're in down dog, but I can hang out in that position without feeling like my hips are going to seize up.  My ankles have always been wobbly, but I'm getting better at any of the moves that require you to balance on one foot.   My triceps and shoulder strength is laughable and please don't ask me to do a pushup, but I spotted muscle definition in my biceps for the first time in, well, I can't remember when. 

It's a huge confidence booster to see your body making progress, and coming out of a session feeling relaxed and satisfied has no price.  I am so happy I decided to try out yoga!  I'm definitely going to sign up for a third reiteration of the class.  

Have you ever taken a fitness class?  How do you like to be physically active?

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