Winning at Yoga

My first yoga class went like this:

When I arrived at my very first yoga class, I was relieved to see that everyone in the class had white hair. If this was an old people’s class, then I was going to show them what young and in shape looked like. I was going to kick their old asses at yoga.

I was going to win.

About fifteen minutes into my first class, I was trying to map out the least obvious route to the door.

After thirty minutes, I was pretty sure I was going to throw up on my borrowed yoga mat.

The teacher offered me blocks to take the strain off my wrists. She offered a towel to soak up some of the sweat pouring off me. She offered to trade the sweet release of death in exchange for my eternal soul. (That last one may have been a hallucination from the pain.)

At one point, the teacher directed us to go into chaturanga. If you’re unfamiliar, chaturanga is basically a low push-up, but with your hands down near your waist. While balancing on your hands and toes, you hover off the ground. There’s more to it than that, but — well, try it. If you don’t practice a lot of yoga (or some serious strength training), you probably can’t do it.

I fell straight to the mat. As I lay there, horrified by this impossible pose, I looked around and saw 20 or more white-haired grannies and grandpas all hovering in perfect chaturanga, smiling. They were enjoying it. What the hell was going on?

By 45 minutes into the practice, I was pretty sure I’d stumbled upon some science fiction nightmare. These old people couldn’t possibly handle the punishing routine this evil, sadistic yoga woman was putting them through. Half of them were overweight. All of them were over 60, at least.

Here I was, in the best shape of my life, stronger than ever, working with a personal trainer five days a week and looking like a swimsuit model — and I couldn’t even do downward dog. Forget chaturanga.

Pincha Mayurasana, AKA Feather of the Peacock, in the early days…

It took everything I had to finish that first class. I was so happy to finally experience savasana (AKA corpse pose, which felt very aptly named, AKA final relaxation). It took everything I had to show my face at the next class. It took everything I had each and every class I attended in those first months.

It took me nearly a year to finally get into chaturanga. It took another six months to do crow and supported headstand, and many more months to learn feather-of-the-peacock. I haven’t mastered even the simplest poses, and I never will.

The way I look at it, in yoga, we’re all beginners. Even the people who teach us are beginners. With that in mind, I’m going to give you this piece of yoga advice:

Don’t try to win at yoga. By practicing at all, you’ve already won.



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