Part II: What is Yoga?

The yoga studio was warm and welcoming. Soft light filled the open studio; gentle thumping came from an older man playing a set of drums in the corner. The room was full of people sitting at the end of their yoga mats, ready for what in my mind was mediation and mild core work.

There was no mediation in this class; unless you counted repeatedly saying “Oh God, let this be over”, mediation. I was soon lost in the various, impossible poses and felt completely out of place in the room full of toned bodies, contorting into all sorts of positions that I had never once thought to try. To make the class worse, it was not a 60-minute class; no, this was a 90-minute class. Ninety minutes of extreme core work.

By the end of the class, the room was impossibly hot, the heat making me light headed, and my arms were shaking from a pose that the teacher had called ‘downward dog’, that had been repeatedly held throughout the class. Apparently, according to the teacher, this pose was known as a resting pose.

As I was heading out the door, the cold air outside a relief from the heat inside, the tall, lean man who had practiced next to me, who had practiced with sweat running off his toned body, whose face had not grimaced or flinched once as he had moved through the class, holding each pose perfectly, stopped me. “Are you new to yoga?” I don’t know how this man kept a straight face as he asked that. Probably the same way he had kept a straight face while balancing in those earlier poses.

I nodded, and he said, “Hope to see you back; they have classes every day of the week. It does get easier after a bit.” His face was kind; his smile genuine, and as I walked out the door, I realized I felt better; I felt welcomed.

I came back to the Yoga Center and brought a friend. We tried the Yoga for Beginners class, held for free every Sunday night. The teacher smiled at the class, “Welcome to Yoga for Beginners. I’m here to guide to you through your practice and to answer any questions you might have. As we go through the basic poses, remember, this is your practice. You chose your own path tonight.” In a way, I felt saved, and I knew as I left the studio, walking back to my car in the cold, night air, that even though the next few months were still going to be hard, I had a place to go and a way to help me get through this difficult time.

When people ask ‘What is yoga?’ the simple answer is yoga is whatever you want it or need it to be. While yoga is officially defined as ‘any method by which such awareness and tranquility are attained, especially a course of related exercises and postures designed to promote physical and spiritual well being’ (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/yoga), what yoga is is different for each person, and it can be different things for the same person, depending on the day. Everyone has their own story about why they started yoga, and this is mine.

 

 

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