I walk through the parking lot toward YogaWorks with a little lump of dread in my belly.  What if I don’t know where to put my mat?  What if they I take my shoes off too late and people think I’m a heathen??  What if I pass out?  You know, all the normal thoughts an adult has when they try something new.

A total creature of habit, I realized sadly, after a wicked IT band injury last year, that my tired old ways of only running and training like a 21-year old — sporadic, hard training runs, beer to hydrate afterwards, and zero stretching and strength training — weren’t exactly working for 31-year old me. And thus, if I expected to stay (mostly) injury free, I’d need to try something OTHER than running.

Which brings me back to yoga and my slowing building nerves as I swing open the studio door for my first class.

Now don’t get me wrong, I always liked the idea of doing yoga.  I envisioned myself wandering into class with a serene look on my face and a calm air swirling around my zen being.  I’d bask in the natural sunlight pouring into into the room while I hold (without shaking) my Warrior II pose.

[Full disclosure: I just googled how to properly write Warrior II.  This gives you a sense about my general depth of yoga knowledge]

Back to my magical yoga dream.

I see myself flowing through the poses with ease, then sitting quietly with a clear mind and a full heart chatting OMMMMM with my fellow yogis.  I relish this vision of a once a week soul and spirit clearing before I go back to my regular life as a runner where I can pour sweat, suck fresh air and marinate in the endorphins only a good cardio session can offer.

Except that glorious vision has never been my experience.  A passionate worrier, I’ve spent the handful of yoga classes I’ve taken more concerned with the heavy breathing of a nearby classmate, or focused directly on that one piece of my hair that refuses to get off my neck, instead of truly getting anything out of them.

In the time it takes me to calmly make it through a yoga class, I usually determine I could have burned more calories and better used my time had I just gone running.

I know, I’m very narrow-minded.  Let’s return to real life yoga.

As I leave my running shoes tucked neatly near the pile of discarded shoes at the front door, I experience that glorious and fleeting moment where you’re actually excited to try something new.  You’re fully living your vision of this new activity — gracefully going through the motions like you’ve been doing it for years, while the soft notes of Gonna Fly Now play in the background.

[For those of you who didn’t get that reference, stop reading this post and go away.  Rocky remains one of the best inspirational sports movies, if not the best.  I barely understand a word he says in that movie but I don’t care — by the time the movie is over I’m dressed in a uni-colored sweatsuit charging out my door for a run or doing wild punches at the air.]

Back to namaste.

I follow the rest of the class as they grab blocks, straps, pads and about a dozen different “tools” I didn’t realize I’d need for yoga.  Aren’t we all supposed to just lay and pose on our mats?  I thought my only tool was my mat?  I contemplate all I don’t know as I shuffle with my arms full of things, to the back of the class where I nervously mimic my mat neighbor’s tool set up, and mentally prepare for the good vibes to roll.

Two gentle breathes into class, I’m back to square one.

As a person who doesn’t thrive off crowds or closed spaces packed with warm bodies, I immediately begin to tense up as people arriving late start jamming their yoga mats in next to me.  I remind myself that everyone has a right to be in this class…even if it means being way too close to me.  I slam my eyes shut so I can’t see anyone else saddle up inside my personal space and let the instructor’s voice fill my ears.

As I listen to this limber angel’s voice guide me through vinyasa, the next hour brings a range of emotions.

Joy, when I feel actual tension leave my shoulders and back as I stretch luxuriously into Downward Dog.

Panic, when I feel my back foot slip out of a pose causing my eyes to snap open and see a lady’s feet DIRECTLY in front of my face.  Ma’am, get your cracked heels out of my grill.

Relief, when I find I actually know enough of the poses to take myself through vinyasa without pausing to look up at the instructor or sneak a peek at my too-close-for-comfort neighbor.

Irritation, when a gal I eventually nickname Joe Camel, wanders into class 10 minutes late, stuffs her mat right next to mine, oozing cigarette smoke out of every pore.  How can anyone harness their chi when you’re huffing smoke off of a stranger??

Excitement, when the instructor walks by and complements me on my “strong Warrior 1 pose,” which makes me feel at that very moment, like the strongest, most graceful woman on earth.

Annoyance, when I’m trying to hold a pose but realize all I can focus on is another person who is breathing like a monster somewhere to my right.

Amazement and calm, when we join together for a group “ommmmm” at the end of class and I legitimately feel like I’m in a Buddhist monastery.

Eventually we arrive at my favorite part of the class in which we lay like dead bodies on the floor, in the dark, and essentially take an adult nap time.  It was at that time, despite Camel Joe, despite the monster breather, and a dozen other annoyances…I really began to relax.  The noises began to fade, my body feels limber and warm, and I gently, and finally, find myself connecting to the moment and my breath.  And I have to say, it feels amazing.

As I gathered my stuff up I realized a few things:

– Yoga is harder than I thought

– My patience is limited

– My flexibility is shit

– I actually enjoyed myself

My first yoga class brought to my attention that not only am I in severe need of strength training and increased flexibility, but I’m also overdue for a dose of learning, patience, and focus.

If I’m being truthful, I don’t like the idea of going back to a stuffy room and having Joe Camel suffocate me during mountain pose.

Conversely, I do like the thought that by going back, twisting myself around, letting my legs quiver, controlling my breath, focusing my mind and generally committing myself to an activity that doesn’t come easily – I’m growing stronger.  Mentally and physically.

For the record, I hope next class they open more windows.

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