Why you don’t have to be a hippy to enjoy a good tree pose.
By Katie Hovan, University of Miami
Telling someone that I practice yoga comes with a lot of baggage today.
Yogis, or people who practice yoga, are perceived as nature-loving, green smoothie-drinking hippies who don’t seem to like wearing clothes too often. And if they do put on clothes, it’s probably plain black leggings that cost more than my grocery bill for the month. They might even believe in holistic medicine and follow a strict vegan diet.
I was first introduced to yoga in a high school gym class that aimed at keeping us athletically well rounded.
We tried our hands at archery, golf, ultimate Frisbee and quidditch, too. But being somewhat flexible growing up, I took a liking to yoga. I could execute all of the poses better than my classmates. The 17-year old chain-smokers and even the jocks in my class certainly couldn’t rock a tree pose like I could, and repeatedly upstaging everyone inspired me to try a real class at a yoga studio. A few weeks later, I bought the cheapest Groupon I could find and marched myself to a class.
I went to the spotless, high-end studio ready to conquer the mat and impress the teachers with my remarkable flexibility and elegance. I pictured them praising me in front of everyone and telling me they’d never seen such promise from a newbie.
Sure enough, as I entered the room, I spotted the men and women who were donning the expensive athletic clothing with bodies that rivaled supermodels’. But shockingly, the people in my class ranged from their early 20s to their mid 60s. I couldn’t wait to use my youth as an advantage and put them all to shame. After some deep breathing and freaky chanting that made me feel like a Satanist, the class began and the teacher immediately guided us into the poses.
In the front corner of the room was a woman, who was about 55, moving into the next pose. She sat with one leg straight in front of her and the other leg completely behind her head. The teacher walked over to her and announced that she was a perfect demonstration of the eka pada sirsasana pose (or foot-behind-the-head pose.) Then, she took the woman’s already outstretched leg and pushed it even further down her back.
It’s only a matter of time before this woman’s leg is snapped, I thought, not even bearing to look in that direction any longer.
Not even contortionists were meant to move that way.
I, on the other hand, could barely manage to pick one leg up. I looked to the woman next to me, who was very obviously new at this yoga business, too. As she glanced back, drenched in sweat and wheezing, she mouthed the words, “Hell no.” At least I wasn’t the only one who sucked.
As the class dragged on, I wondered how such a difficult practice had been around for thousands of years. I stood no match for the poses and the people in the room. I felt strangely defeated, and my confidence from the beginning of class had waned. The teacher constantly adjusted my body, indicating that I wasn’t doing any of the poses correctly. She would praise me after each adjustment, but very few people in the class needed the basic assistance that I did.
Finally, the teacher ordered us to take the final pose: savasana, or corpse pose. Everyone slowly began to lie on their backs with their arms relaxed and their legs straight but splaying a bit to each side. The lights dimmed and everyone was ordered to close their eyes and let go of any tension they were feeling. We spent a few minutes in total silence, completely relaxing our bodies. Soon, we were all told to sit up, and the teacher was back at it with the Sanskrit chanting. This time, she followed it with a few English words of wisdom that I could actually understand.
“All that you are and all that you do: know that it is enough.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, hit me right in the feels. Here I was feeling sorry for myself for being upstaged by everyone around me. I spent the entirety of the 90-minute class feeling self conscious and pathetic.
But being told that what I had done and what I was capable of in class that day was simply “enough” was a life changing moment.
I didn’t need to be the best in the room, just the best that I could be on my own. Since that day, yoga has taught me that it’s okay to suck and it’s okay to struggle. As long as I keep moving forward and growing, there’s no shame in the pace. Forward is forward.
I still can’t chant in Sanskrit or even keep a straight face when someone accidentally farts mid-pose, but I’m working on it. I’m human. I eat at McDonald’s, and the smallest of situations can stress me out. (Seriously. My palms even sweat when I watch American Ninja Warrior.) But yoga has been an escape for me for the past year and a half. I may not have converted to veganism or even learned to live a Zen lifestyle yet, but I can certainly see a change in who I am and how I take on each day. Yoga has taught me a mindfulness that I can use in every day and situation in my life.
Anyone considering trying yoga, be it for health or leisure purposes, should do it with an open mind. It’s hard work, but positive things can come out of the experience. And there is certainly no image or stereotype that people who practice yoga need to fit in order to be accepted as a yogi. In fact, the yoga community has proved to be one of the most uplifting, inspiring groups that I’ve ever been a part of. Everyone encourages one another to succeed, no matter their experience level, and those are the type of people we all deserve to be surrounded by at some point in time.
So whether it’s yoga or even some other new venture that you’re taking on, go forth and conquer it. Trying new things is the best way to discover all that life has to offer. It won’t be easy, but it will certainly be worth it. Namaste, bitches.