I took my first yoga class on the last Saturday in April, 2014. I had no idea what to expect but my massage therapist had encouraged me to try it. I hadn’t found any sort of exercise that really appealed to me so I figured I would give it a shot. I went to a very popular, very crowded yoga studio because I knew someone who worked there. The room was full of young women wearing expensive yoga clothes and a few middle-aged ladies like me—and one guy who appeared to be there under duress from his lady. The instructor was lovely but gave no instructions on how to do anything, so I covertly watched the other students. I took four more classes there after that. The room was too hot (and it wasn’t hot yoga), too crowded and just not comfortable for me. Fortunately a friend told me about a studio not far from my house. I started taking classes there in June of 2014 and haven’t left yet.
I’ve found serenity, strength and kindness, from others and from myself, at the yoga studio. The instructors are all so nurturing and eager to help everyone have the best possible experience. Can’t do a pose? No problem: they’ll help you figure out an alternative. Need a block or a strap or a bolster? They’ll get it for you. I started attending class more and more frequently. By the time I was diagnosed with cancer in February of 2015 I was taking five to seven classes a week. I was feeling very confident about my progress and thinking that I might take the teacher training at some point. I figured that as a relative latecomer to yoga I could be helpful to other people in the same situation. As of right now the teacher training is on hold. I need to regain my strength and continue to improve as a student before I consider it again.
One of the loveliest things about yoga, for me at least, is how much self-care is involved. I don’t have to compete with anybody and in fact I rarely look around to see what other students are doing. I don’t need to compare myself to someone who’s been practicing yoga for twenty years. I also don’t need to feel pride because I can do something another student can’t do. That isn’t what yoga is about. What it’s about, for me at least, is finding focus, staying in the present and paying attention to one’s breathing and position. It’s about thinking kindly towards myself and others. Every class I’ve taken has ended with a reminder that kindness and peace are some of the most important things we can offer to the world. My thinking towards my fellow human beings began to change as I heard that message again and again. I felt more patient and more compassionate.
I’ve tried doing yoga at home. I have an app called Yoga Studio and a DVD. But doing yoga at home is never as satisfying as going to the studio. The distractions of home make it difficult for me to focus and accomplish anything. When I enter the studio, put down my mat and get started I feel an immediate sense of belonging, purpose and focus.
I still struggle with the focus part. Last week I was taking a challenging class that wouldn’t have been nearly so challenging a year ago. I got angry, not with myself, but with the cancer that stole so many months of my life last year. That led to even more negative thoughts and frustration. I even considered leaving the class early. Then I reminded myself that I didn’t have to do anything. I knew that I could just lie on my mat and enjoy the sound of the instructor’s voice if I wanted to. I reminded myself that I whenever I take a class I’m there to do only what I can do on any given day. I started modifying and resting more and I made it through the whole class. And I went back on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and yesterday (Sunday). There are moments of struggle in every class, either with focus or physical ability or both. I’m still learning to be kind to myself.
The wonderful place where I practice yoga is Community Yoga. It’s in Cornelius, NC. If you decide to do yoga try a couple of different studios. Ask your friends for recommendations. Figure out what kind of yoga you like to do, and keep doing it. I would love to know about your experience with yoga and how it’s changed your life.