I once thought that yoga was nothing more than an exercise class in which the participants did a little bit of stretching and a whole lot of chanting. Yogis were lithe and enlightened. Th ey were people who smiled serenely as they assumed postures that even Gumby couldn’t master. Th en I began going to yoga classes and discovered just how wrong I was. Aft er attending classes for several years now (on an intermittent basis), I have drawn several conclusions about this beautiful but challenging discipline. Yoga is not for sissies. It is not a passive activity in which you assume the Lotus position while visualizing rainbows and fi elds of sunfl owers. It requires a considerable degree of balance, coordination and resolve as participants assume and maintain a posture for a certain period of time. I think I labored less while giving birth than while holding myself in the Downward Dog posture. Yoga will introduce you to parts of your body that you didn’t know you had. For most of my life, I never thought much about the space between my shoulder blades or the little toe on my left foot. Yoga changed all that. Now I am mindful of my entire body, not only when and how it moves, but when and how it rests. Occasionally, even my breathing gets my undivided attention. Before I float away into the cosmos, allow me to share some hard-earned wisdom about the practical aspects of preparing for a yoga class. Th ese are tidbits of information that you will not find in any yoga manual. Don’t eat a lot of fi ber before you go to a yoga class. For reasons that I don’t have to explain to any intelligent reader, ingesting this kind of food could easily turn a yoga studio into a sound eff ects chamber. Make sure you have on clean underwear when you go to a yoga class. Th is is probably good advice for nearly every situation in life, but it is especially important for yoga. Some of the postures can be revealing, especially if you discover at the beginning of class that you have a large tear in your yoga pants. Then your underwear should not only be clean, but also visually appealing since your classmates will see a lot of it. Always remember that yoga and hand lotion are not a good mix. One morning I put lotion on my hands just before going to yoga class because my skin felt dry. I soon realized what a big mistake that was. Downward Dog became Wayward Dog as I slid all over my mat. My attempts to stay in one place were futile. I couldn’t have remained stationary if my life had depended on it. So be sure to skip the lotion. Nothing will keep you fi rmly rooted to your mat like a pair of dry, itchy hands. Don’t forget to breathe while doing yoga. Th is piece of advice may sound obvious, but apparently some people don’t follow it. According to my yoga instructor, there is an occasional student who will hold his or her breath during class and eventually pass out. Yoga is challenging enough without throwing loss of consciousness into the mix. Besides, I’m usually panting so hard while holding some postures that it would be impossible for me to forget to breathe. Don’t forget to bring your sense of humor to yoga class. We’re not splitting the atom here—we’re just doing yoga. One of the things that I enjoy most about my instructor and my classmates is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Most of us are women of “a certain age” who have some physical limitations such as arthritis or bad knees. While the aging process may have weakened our bodies, it has strengthened our funny bones and taught us to laugh at ourselves. We leave class with smiles on our faces and the knowledge that we are kindred spirits. Be prepared to see yourself in a diff erent light. Yoga will make you see yourself in a new way and you will like what you see. Yoga may show us our limitations, but it also shows us our possibilities. Many postures that seemed nearly impossible can become achievable with time. Th ere is nothing more exhilarating than fi nally being able to remain in Tree Pose aft er struggling with it. Knowing that I can maintain my balance and concentration fi lls me with a confi dence that I can take with me when class is fi nished. Learning to let go completely and quiet my mind has helped me to develop an inner tranquility that benefi ts me in other areas of my life. There is no down side to yoga, except, of course, for Downward Dog.
Mary Zahran, who hopes to levitate in yoga class one day, can be reached at email@example.com.