I can’t honestly say I practice yoga; that would assume some level of skill. I go to yoga classes. I attempt yoga poses. I occasionally try to keep up with the class. The faces I make in my attempts to keep up must mystify even the most experienced instructor. I am certain of this, because I am in there behind that face-making with feelings of confusion, dread, shock and bliss. Thinking thoughts like: “Are you serious?” or “That is not humanly possible” or, worse, “Oh, no! Now that we are attempting this with the right leg, she is going to expect us to do it with the left!”
Sometimes I scowl, because I can.
I will admit that I have gotten better at pigeon pose and tree pose, and I can now hold a perfect child’s pose. During some classes, however, I am in some modified pose of my own design, looking around dismayed by what others are doing. Halfway through the class, I often think I can’t go on and I should just flee and save myself.
Then I realize I am breathing, my muscles are stretching and I am letting go of the flurry of thoughts that plague me (many, many thoughts plague me, usually at 3:30 a.m.), so I stay. And I breathe.
My first yoga class was at Canyon Ranch in 2001. My second yoga class was in 2011, right here in Georgetown. It was cathartic. I tell my friends who want to try yoga to do three things. First, find a yoga studio close to where you work or live (we are so fortunate that in Georgetown “walking distance” is a reality, not just a concept). Second, look at classes for beginners and see who teaches those. Third, call and arrange a private lesson with that instructor. This way you will get to know the instructor, understand his or her method and, most importantly, get one-on-one instruction on how to properly do poses to avoid injury to your knees and shoulders. And you’ll know what those poses with their quirky names really look like.
Yoga is non-judgmental. I like that. It is solely for you and your practice. Trust me, no one cares what you are doing while they are twisting themselves into shapes not found in nature. I have to confess here that occasionally I look around and think, “How in the hell can she do that when she pushed a human out of that body?” Judgmental? No, just impressed and jealous. As motivating as it is to witness, I may or may not attempt the pose.
My advice is that if you are able, no matter your level of activity — runner, weightlifter, Pilates-doer, sidewalk walker, exercise avoider — just try it. The benefits are numerous, and although it may be a true workout for some, it is purely relaxation or focus for others. I am the happy beneficiary of all three.
Yoga can fill a single void or you can build an entire lifestyle around its philosophy, disciplines and community. Self-admittedly, I am wound too tightly to do the latter, as it would require this hummingbird to reduce wing flaps by 70 percent, but all the more reason to incorporate the practice when I can, for all the benefits mentioned.
Yoga classes are typically pay-as-you-go (so no long-term commitment) and can be even less expensive if you buy packages (far less than some gym memberships). You can incorporate it into your other activities, like running or tennis, and you can go when it works for you, as there are classes offered at all hours.
You have probably guessed by now that I go when the instructor is not a drill sergeant, and when my buddies go, in hopes of having coffee after. I know what you are thinking, “Shouldn’t yoga be its own reward?”
Despite my touting the wonderful benefits of yoga, I still need motivation, sometimes in the form of a scone. I suppose it is the same reason I cannot do downloaded yoga in my living room; I lack motivation and the experience is just not the same for me. I enjoy the camaraderie of a group.
Double bonus: yoga is a lot like golf in that wherever you go you can usually find a yoga class. If I am travelling, I just google “yoga studios near me” and look for class descriptions that include words such as “beginners welcome,” “restorative” and “stretching” — always being sure to avoid classes billed as “advanced,” “power” or “hot.”
I attempted one “hot yoga” class and that was enough: picture yourself sweating profusely with everyone around you sweating and emanating sweaty smells. Oh, and occasionally a flicker of their sweat is sent in your direction. Just couldn’t do it, and I can’t redo my hair that often. But good for you, my hot-yoga-practicing friends with your lithe bodies and sweat-matted hair. Carry on.
I have never left a yoga class saying, “I wish I hadn’t done that.” I always leave feeling better both physically and mentally. It can truly be a holistic and healing experience, no matter your level. My best yoga face, at the end following Shavasana: “I am so relaxed I fear I won’t be able to get up.”
We are fortunate to have a number of wonderful studios here in Georgetown. I can recommend Yoga Del Sol, 1519 Wisconsin Ave. NW, and Georgetown Yoga, 2805 M St. NW. Let’s face it, we could all use a moment to breathe and reflect. Namaste.