“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”
—The Bhagavad Gita
My first experience practicing yoga was at a donation-based studio many years ago in Santa Monica, CA. A friend had been going to these classes almost every Sunday morning. After each class she would rave about how relaxed she felt. At this point in my life, the only thing I knew about yoga was its relaxing and blissful after-effects. Images of people doing nothing for an hour except breathe and chant on a yoga mat pervaded my mind.
That all changed when I took my very first class.
It’s Sunday morning at 8:30am, and my friend rolls up to my apartment to pick me up. We carpool to find an empty meter, and before we find one, we see an extremely long line of ladies wearing yoga leggings and sports bras, fellas sporting T-shirts and beach shorts, and everyone clutching rolled up yoga mats.
This must be one amazing relaxation class, I thought. It will be a miracle if we can actually fit all these people into a single room.
Let me clarify: “all these people” consisted of over 60 humans crowded into one room. The wooden floor inside was completely permeated with brightly-colored yoga mats, with little space between each one; the off-white walls bare and filled with single-shuttered wooden frames and glass windows, the corner tables with Buddha statues, and a single, wooden donation box.
Such a beautiful color palette on the floor, with people acclimating and relaxing: some chatting with each other, others pre-stretching before the hour-long “bliss”. Gradually, all of the hustle and bustle quieted down as the instructor began the session. All of the glass windows were closed, the fans shut off, and the class was on.
The instructor was this tanned, very shorthaired, and extremely fit man.
His voice was strong as he welcomed the class, yet he was very careful when roaming the floor, so as not to step on anyone. His verbal cues led us through pose after pose. I had never done yoga before, so I had to frequently look at my neighbors to mimic the best I can.
Part of me feels intimidated, awkward, and nervous about my lack of experience—very similar to that of going into a gym.
But, you know that you won’t ever get in shape if you never even start, I tell myself, so, this yoga flow is going to start no matter how awkward it feels!
Ten minutes into the class, sweat is forming on my face and my arms. Sweat? What happened to feeling blissful and relaxed? This isn’t even a sauna, but somehow the entire room is heating up from everyone’s work on their mats. We are doing things like balancing on one foot, holding lunges and poses named Cobra, Downward Dog, and Tree (so-named for the respective organisms they represent). And each pose requires breathing. Oh yes, LOTS of breathing.
Twenty minutes into the class, sweat is now dripping down. On my mat. On the floor. Drip, drip, drip...it’s almost like rain....
Thirty minutes into the class, and Yours Truly has officially deemed this yogic sweat, “Yoga Rain”.
Fifty minutes into the class, while breathing the deepest breath EVER, I have discovered at least 20 different muscles I never knew existed. They are all crying— and raining —before the instructor guides us through a cool down into savasana, known as “corpse pose”. We lay down, allowing our feet to fall open, our arms resting at our sides with the palms facing up, and our eyes are closed as the fans begin to gently spin.
This act of lying down feels entirely different than at the beginning of this hour. Release, relaxation, and rest combine as one whole wave of bliss.
This is what people are talking about…this is the bliss that my friend was raving about. Funny thing is, this bliss wouldn’t have happened if we were simply laying on our mats for an hour, doing absolutely nothing. We definitely had to work to reach this feeling.
After savasana, we are guided to sit back up with our eyes still closed. We put our hands together in front of our hearts, and chant the sound om (which isn’t religious or anything), and feel the entire room reverberate with this awesome warmth. Following the instructor, we gently vocalize the word namaste : “the divine in me honors and greets the divine in you”. The glass windows are opened, the yoga mats are rolled up, and I walk out into the city with a newfound sense of sweaty serenity.
What just happened here? I ask myself. Was this just a workout? A meditation? Because this thing called Yoga just felt like an entire combination of it all—and it was great!
Being a part of this amazing hour (Was it only one? It felt like two!) led to a deeper seeking of knowledge of what Yoga is, what it does, which different types exist; and how practically anyone, regardless of prior experience, can practice it.
Power, Vinyasa, Hatha, Yin/Restorative; Iyengar, Bikram, Heated, Ashtanga—all fall under the Yogic “umbrella”. You can curate your own list of desired benefits with the appropriate school of yoga: there is yoga for meditation, yoga for prenatal mommies, and yoga for athletes; yoga to help relax, yoga to strengthen abdominal muscles, yoga to help with indigestion; yoga for kids, yoga for teens, yoga for adults… there is a yoga for just about anyone.
So, the next time you pass by your local yoga studio, try out a class. Get your “Downward Dog” on, and stretch your level of Greatness. Try your best to keep in mind that it is all about progression instead of perfection.
There is neither judgment, nor comparison: just a safe space where you can strengthen the mind and body.
Please consult your doctor if you have been medically advised to refrain from physical activity for any length of time. Be good to your body.
Julie is a Rogue Yogi, just like many of us on this planet. Seeking truth. Giving love. Co-creating with a purpose. Be on the lookout for her other submissions on nutrition, fitness/yoga and some real talk. You can also follow her on Facebook.