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I Thought Yoga Was a New Age Fad for "Spiritual" People

by Katharine Chan 18 days ago in yoga

Then all those downward dogs had my back

I Thought Yoga Was a New Age Fad for "Spiritual" People
Photo by Ginny Rose Stewart on Unsplash

Doing yoga seems like you're joining a trendy cult but it's not. Here's how all that downward dog was worth it for someone who was a skeptic in the beginning.

I am in no way a Yogini

I don't even consider myself yogini-ish. I don't know all the Sanskrit words for the different positions nor can I do most of them impeccably. I can't pretzel my way out of a vent or backbend to see what my butt looks like without a mirror.

I'm a busy working mom of 2 who does yoga at home 3–4 times a week. I stream a video, follow it for 30 minutes and I'm done. Ah…Savasana

And to my surprise, doing just that has made a huge difference in how my body feels, moves, twists and turns.

However, my journey with yoga didn't start that way.

Too cool for school

The first time I heard about yoga I was in my Grade 8 French class. We were learning the difference between the verbs 'faire' and 'jouer'.

Faire means 'to do or to make'. It's used for activities like boating, horseback riding and of course, yoga.

Jouer means "to play." It is used for games and sports such as soccer, football, hockey.

I was a 13-year-old basketball and volleyball playing teenager; team sports were my thing. Thinking I was 'too cool for school', I immediately clumped yoga with lame activities only 'old people' do without ever trying it.

Gym, Run, Gym, Run

The following year, I was old enough to join the local recreation centre and started strength training, learning about the basic muscle groups and which exercises worked them. I was fascinated by this and by the time I graduated high school, I decided to pursue a degree in Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology at Unversity.

I have a naturally muscular and athletic build so for most of my adult life, I strived to build muscle and improve cardiovascular endurance. I alternated between running and going to the gym, doing what I was good at, staying inside my comfort zone.

Even though I studied exercise physiology and anatomy and understood the benefits of yoga, I had this misconception that it was a trendy fad that's basically stretching, something you do after a "real workout" if you had the time.

Paying to breathe

I tried yoga for the first when I was in my second year of university. A friend dragged me to a class and I hated it.

The class starts. The instructor tells us to focus on our breathing while we sat there, legs crossed, in silence, not moving. A minute into this, I get anxious and impatient. I scoff, thinking:

What's with all this new age stuff? This is way too 'spiritual' and 'out there' for me.

I'm paying her 20 bucks so I can breathe for 10 minutes while she yammers on and on about intention and purpose? What a freaking hippie.

How am I raising my heart rate to strengthen my cardiovascular endurance and improve my cardiac output?

How am I improving my VO2 max (maximum oxygen consumption rate)?

My muscles are atrophying as I speak, just sitting here, listening to my breath along with 19 other suckers.

I start calculating what the instructor was making, multiplying the number of students in the class by the drop-in rate. Then I estimate her operating expenses, overhead costs etc… then I was egotistically boasting to myself,

"I could totally do what she does. I could charge half and get way more students. I just have to breathe and get paid to have people breathe with me."

Comparing and feeling inadequate

Then as the class continued, I realized it was a lot harder than I thought. My shoulders were tight. My hips felt like an 80-year-old's. Everything cracked and as that insecure 20-year-old, I started comparing myself to the other students in the class. They were so much better than me, twisting and contorting effortlessly.

I felt inadequate like a rusty robot that hadn't been oiled in years, abandoned in the corner of a retired mechanic's garage. I was perplexed because I prided myself on working out 5–6 times a week and religiously stretching after each session. I thought I would be a natural, that it would have been easy.

At the end of class, I couldn't tell whether my face was flushed because of the number of times my head went above my heart or because I was embarrassed that I couldn't keep up. It was a humbling experience.

As someone who has a personal rule to try something at least twice, I went to a couple more classes but eventually stopped going. I concluded that my body wasn't designed for yoga.

A change in heart

8 years ago, I started dating my husband. At the time he had just recovered from an injury that at its worst made walking to the bathroom painful. He told me on our first date that he was barely mobile the year before meeting up with me.

He explained that decades of sitting, work stress, and only focusing on aesthetics at the gym were the culprits. Getting hip-checked during an ice hockey game was merely the straw that broke the camel's back.

I remember asking him what he did for treatment and said he tried everything from physiotherapy, supplements, acupuncture to chiropractic sessions; however, he ultimately credits yoga to his recovery.

I was honestly surprised but it opened my eyes to what the future may hold if I kept on the same path. I, too, sat for my job, hunched over the keyboard like a melted candy cane. However, his story didn't change my mind; I was still skeptical so I kept doing my run and gym routine.

Then a couple of years later, we got engaged and started living together. He would head to his power yoga class at 8 pm while I pounded the pavement. I'd finish my 45-minute run, come home and shower. Once I was out, he'd be back, looking like he'd come back from the spa, all relaxed and zen-like; I'd smell his yoga mat drenched in essential oils hanging in the hallway. Sometimes it was citrusy and sometimes it had a hint of tea tree oil and lavender.

I was curious to try it again. It had been almost a decade since I gave it chance. He had a "take a friend to class" pass and offered it to me.

Growing up, slowing down and caring less

This time it was different. The slow movements were much more bearable, almost as though the pace matched the rate my brain was functioning.

And in fact, that decade between my first time trying yoga and this time allowed my brain to develop and adjust to a more settled state where impulsive thoughts dwindled and sensible decision making rose. My mind was more mature, darting around less, focusing still more and it craved the flow of yoga. All that breathing made sense.

The class challenged me to get outside my comfort zone, stretching my body's limits to move with intention. Instead of comparing myself to the other students in the class, I looked to them as an inspiration, something to strive for. I told myself,

"Wow, our bodies are amazing and one day, perhaps, I will also be able move like that."

Instead of judging the instructor, I had the utmost respect for her ability to exude positive and enlightening energy while moving her body with grace and finesse.

After that class, my body felt invigorated as though I had gotten a massage and my lymphatic system was reactivated. I took the plunge and paid for an expensive annual pass. And every night, my husband and I went to a power yoga class together. I learned to lean into the moments when my body felt weak and appreciate it when it felt strong.

Becoming a mom and making time for myself

The thing with yoga classes is that it takes time, a lot of time. From reserving my spot, putting yoga clothes on, remembering my mat, towel and water bottle, driving to the studio to driving back, it's not the easiest way to incorporate exercise into the life of a mom with two tiny humans.

Before kids, I could just pick up and go. I would look up when the next class was, sign-up and off I went, no strings attached. Becoming a mom made that incredibly difficult. The inconvenience only added to the trouble I had trying to make time for myself.

So I transitioned to following yoga videos online. It was relatively seamless given the years of in-class instruction I had received before. All I need is my phone and a small space on the floor. Yoga is portable; I don't need equipment and I can literally do it anywhere at any time.

Now, about 3–4 times a week, I carve out 30 minutes to practice self-care, allowing myself to zone out and let go of anything that I was holding onto, physically and mentally. Sometimes, I'll let my kids watch some TV while I do this in the corner of the living room. I'll press pause in a pose whenever I'm needing an extra push. And once I'm done, I'll turn off the TV and resume the chaotic parenting life.

The day yoga had my back

About a month ago, our son who had been sleeping in his crib since he was born started teething. He was extra needy and cranky and after several tries, we couldn't get him to sleep on his own. My husband and I were fed up, exhausted, sensing we were going to turn on each other. So we let him sleep in our bed.

For those who have not co-slept with their kids, it's like sharing a bed with a tiny sleepwalking gymnast who tumbles and turns, mini kicks to the kidneys and micro punches to the throat every hour. That night, I slept with half my body off the bed and the other half tangled in my blankets, hanging on for dear life.

I woke up discombobulated with an intense shooting pain that pierced my shoulder. The pain radiated up my spine and neck, limiting me from turning my head to the left and raising my arm above shoulder height. I was stuck looking right. I couldn't believe how much pain I was in. I told myself,

"I can't function like this. I need my body to be mobile, to pick my son up from the floor so he doesn't wander to the kitchen, to grab the bags of groceries from the car, to lift the basket of dirty laundry to the basement, to play and let my daughter climb me while I pretend to be a sleeping monster…etc."

So I brushed my teeth, went downstairs for a glass of water and while sipping this, I wondered,

"I wonder if doing yoga will help? Will I even be able to do it? It doesn't hurt to try."

So opened up a yoga video and started my routine.

Downward Dog, Upward Dog, Bridge, Warrior 2, Savasana…

I took it easy, moving only as much as my body allowed me to, tuning into my own instincts. However, 15 minutes into the session, I started to feel better. I could resume my usual range of motion, no pain, no flinching, no wincing. I was pleasantly surprised. It actually worked.

Insurance or investment or both?

As I see it, yoga is something I do as an investment for my mental and physical well-being. In addition, it's a regular contributor to my body's insurance policy for when an unexpected night throws me off-kilter or off the bed; I know yoga has my back.

I'm not saying this is the miracle cure that will treat any injury or that it's what everyone needs to do in order to be healthy. It's merely what worked for me. And I hope that sharing my story inspires you to try it at least twice, once now and if you don't like it, again in a few years.

This was originally published on Medium on January 9, 2021.


About the author

Katharine Chan

Sum (心, ♡) on Sleeve | Author. Speaker. Wife. Mom of 2 | Embrace Culture. Love Yourself. Improve Relationships | Empowering you to talk about your feelings despite growing up in a culture that hid them | sumonsleeve.com/books

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