For Christmas one year, I received a pair of DVDs, one for yoga and one for pilates. After convincing my sister to do one of the workouts with me, she practically broke out laughing mid-stretch when the instructor said “Don’t forget to breathe.”
“How can you possibly forget to breathe?” she asked. At the time, I thought the same thing. But then, I wasn’t a practicing yogi.
These days sometimes I just want to lie down. In a room with a bunch of strangers. And listen to their breaths, and my own. Those days call for yoga.
These days have become more frequent.
With running taking up to four days of workouts, I can feel the tightness in my legs and back by the week’s end. Add in five days a week of sitting behind a desk for nearly eight hours and all I want is a stretch.
Around this time of year three years ago I started practicing yoga. It started by walking into a hot yoga studio in Georgetown, in the middle of July no less, and sweating everything out of me in a 90-minute vinyasa flow. I left the studio to an air temperature that was only slightly cooler than the 90+ degrees room in which I contorted from one move to the next. But since the studio offered new students a week free of classes, I went back three more times. Despite my introduction to hot yoga during a season that offered no cooling relief when practice ended, I loved it.
My enthusiasm for the practice is built on a multitude of reasons. First, it is 60 to 90 minutes where I can completely escape from the outside world. While running allows me to clear my head and/or take out my frustrations/motivations/anger on the pavement, yoga forces me to let go completely. Trying to let my mind wander in yoga is actually very difficult. The focus is not on what I will have for breakfast or what I have to do at the office or who hurt me last; rather, it is all on the breath. It may sound simple, but that focus is what enables yogis to transition seamlessly from one move to the next. If you “forget to breathe,” yoga becomes just a stretching experience lost in translation.
Yoga is also a tough workout. When I began practicing, I did it in a hot room, so for a while it was difficult to enjoy the flow without sweating intensively in the process. Yet, as I have begun to stretch at non-heated studios, I have noticed that I don’t need to look like I just finished up a summer run in order to feel the benefits. In the past two days, I have attended two classes and in both I could feel my heart rate rise as my breath intensified to go with the flow. The deep stretching is a refreshing, and much-needed, change in pace from the miles per minutes I regularly count.
When I sit with crossed legs, hands at my heart, repeating “om” in between inhales and exhales, it is just me. Although I do not have a consistent yoga practice, weekly visits over the past two months have reminded me how much I miss it, and need it. I resent that it took a recent negative experience to get me back to the mat, but ultimately the return has been beneficial for both my mental and physical well-being, particularly during these crazy months of marathon training.
As a twenty-something in a city that prides itself on perfection, competitiveness and workaholism, it is a relief to know that there is always someplace I can go to de-stress, detox and momentarily forget life’s ups and downs. Like my running shoes, my yoga mat is an essential tool for my overall prosperity, and sanity.