I am new to practicing yoga. I started going to classes this summer because my husband and friends enjoy going, even though I have never liked stretching. I felt like yoga was too slow of a workout for me. I have always done high intensity exercises as a former Division I athlete, and my mind would wander in class because I felt bored. As I kept going to classes while I was learning to love myself more and heal my back injury, I quickly learned that my approach to yoga as “exercise” is exactly the opposite of the practice. Yoga is about connecting to your breath and yourself. It is meant to be slow so you can be present with yourself and in your body. This is a work in progress for me, but I enjoy meditation, so I am staying the course.
This week, I mustered up the courage to try a hot yoga class. The class is usually about 97 degrees, and I was pretty nervous about it. I was worried about feeling dehydrated and being out of my league in terms of level because usually experienced yogis take the class. I also have a history of pushing myself too hard in class situations, so I was worried about hurting myself in that type of environment. I was feeling a lot of fear, but an old motto of mine from college is “do one thing a day that scares you,” so I went anyway.
Usually when I go to a yoga class, I am relaxed and confident, because I know what to expect, but this time I brought this nervous energy with me. I was in an unfamiliar environment and as I laid on my mat and towel before class, I could feel my anxiety rising in my ribs. I tried to breathe and connect to my breath but I immediately went into comparison mode, which is another hard head space to be in in the yoga studio. I noticed that everyone was wearing pants, and I was the only woman wearing shorts. I felt under dressed, even though it was almost 100 degrees in the studio, and I was worried the other people didn’t think I was tough enough to be in the class.
I did my best to bring my awareness back to myself instead of focusing on others, but it was hard! I was able to do the poses, I modified the shapes when needed, and I used yoga blocks for support. I was hot during class, but didn’t feel dehydrated or like fainting, so it seemed like my body could handle it. I was much stronger and more capable than I expected, even though I felt out of place.
The last 15 minutes of class is savasana, a resting post laying on your back, and a meditation. This is what I had come for. I love meditation in community. It feels powerful and grounding for me.
“As you breathe, ask yourself, what mood am I in?” said the teacher Amy, leading the meditation.
I took some deep breaths and noticed that my mood was a bit irritated. I was feeling annoyed at myself for putting myself in this situation where I felt so uncomfortable.
“Now go a little deeper, what is the emotion underneath this mood?”
I breathed some more. I realized that I was really scared in that hot yoga studio. I didn’t feel like I was good enough to be there, and that I have to prove my worth to all those people in pants. These feelings take me back to being 10-years-old and having to prove that I was good enough to pitch to the coaches on my team.
Tears streamed down my face. I was grateful that the dripping beads of sweat were able to disguise them. I realized that 10-year-old Claire had shown up to hot yoga, instead of 37-year-old Claire who is sure of herself. I had created a scenario in my head before and during class that made me not feel safe or good enough because I was uncomfortable. But that was just a story my 10 -year-old was telling myself, she needed reassurance. I am healthy and capable. I can handle any yoga class I go to. Others are so focused on themselves in class that they didn’t even notice me. I don’t have to prove a thing.
My first hot yoga class was sweaty and I learned some things on the mat that I did not expect. Yoga is a way to process emotions that I didn’t realize were deep inside me. It gave me a new strategy to identify what is going on inside of me by asking myself what mood am I in, and then what emotion lies under that mood. This is a powerful tool. With information, my body was able to produce tears that brought that feeling up and out. Going into class I had no idea vulnerable 10-year-old me was peeking out, but once I comforted her as my adult self, I felt a lot better.
After class, I wasn’t sure if I would go back, but now that I am a few days removed from the situation, I have already bought a new pair of yoga shorts to wear next week. I think I am finally understanding why yoga is called a practice. Each class experience is different because of what I bring with me to the mat that day. Sometimes it is confidence, sometimes it is tears. Both are welcome and are there to help me learn.