I finally found my way back to the yoga studio after ten days spent plowing through an over-ambitious schedule. (Time management for freelancers is proving tricky even for this Type A compulsive organizer).
As I stepped into the 40° heated room and planted my feet on a rubber mat, I could feel myself melting with warm relaxation. Then, the magic happens. After two “sun salutations” (awesome stick figure depictions here if you don’t know what I’m talking about) barely 10 minutes into the 90-minute routine, I was pumping with energy.
This is one thing I love about yoga: it can be incredibly soothing while giving you an intense work out.
I was getting into the groove, remembering the alignment of my wrists and shoulders, feet and hips. Then it occurred to me just how natural these movements now feel, compared to when I was trying to figure out the basics. In honor of small daily epiphanies and occasions to yell “Aha!” silently to yourself, I’m throwing out here my personal list of “5 small moments of triumph in yoga” –
1. Forgetting everyone else in the room. A first yoga class can make you feel like the school nerd at a 6th grade dance. You wish you hadn’t worn baggy sweats when you see the cool girls prancing around in second-skin Lululemon gear. Your hair is tumbling in a sweaty mess when everyone else is rocking the stylish Heidi braid. And you can barely reach your toes – much less press your stomach to your thighs – but everyone else seems to be gracefully mastering the forward bend. Fret not. There comes a point when you’ll forget that you’re in a room with twenty other people. Then, it’ll be someone else’s turn to worry about what you think of their amateur moves while you’re smiling at yourself with confidence into the studio mirrors.
2. Getting “Om” right. The whole idea of sitting cross-legged, hands in a prayer in front of your heart, and throwing your voice into a mono-syllabic chant in unison with the strangers in the room seems kind of kooky initially. Some people cope with this unaccustomed start to classes by staying silent, whiling the three chants away. Others pitch in a timid and uncertain “ummmm…” And then there are the bold men — who already stand out as minorities in any yoga class — jumping in too early with their baritone booms before everyone else has uttered a sound. I deeply dreaded the “Om” in the beginning, but it eventually became my favorite thing. The freedom and harmony of the ritual chant makes me so happy that when I come across teachers who don’t “Om” before they move, I feel like someone stole the maraschino cherry off my fruity cocktail glass.
3. Mastering “chaturanga.” It looks like a push up and you’ll do it at least 5 times in any flow-based yoga class, but it ain’t easy. During the first month of my yoga foray last year, I couldn’t lower myself from “plank” to “chaturanga” because my triceps were too weak. So I suffered the beginner’s humiliation of dropping my knees to the ground first and doing what looked like a “girly push up.” Meanwhile, the more advanced students were all gorgeously stretched taut from head to toe, their elbows tucked at 90º angles close to their ribs, slowly lowering themselves to the ground. I wished I could make “chaturanga” look long and strong the way they did. And then one day I did. It felt so ridiculously good that I just wanted to do it over and over and over again.
4. Standing tall in “tree.” There are a lot of balance moves in yoga, from the simple “eagle” to the crazy “peacock.” The most basic balance posture is “tree,” when you stand on one leg with the other pressed against your inner thigh. Some people catch on to “tree” easily; others have a hard time even bending their non-standing leg into place. Wherever you are on the “tree” spectrum, it’s still amazing to get it right and to incrementally get it “more right.” Once you’re in position and the toppling sensation has passed, you really do feel like you’re “rooted” into the ground. Then, you can switch it up by closing your eyes (don’t fall!), looking up at the sky, stretching your arms outward like branches, or bringing them together into a prayer over your head. “Tree” is so simple and comfortable that I sometimes want to stand around in posture just for kicks.
5. Remembering how a “vinyasa” (“flow”) goes. Once you’ve done it 30 times, the sequence of movements from standing, to bending, to push up, and back flow like a basic instinct. But in the beginning, it’s a choppy and awkward jig as you try to do what the instructor is calling out while breathing in and out at all the wrong times. More than a few times, you’ll be embarrassed to find that everybody else is in a beautiful “chaturanga” while you’ve prematurely pushed back to “downward dog.” It’ll pass, you’ll get the hang of it, and give yourself a pat on the back.