I’ve been terrified of yoga for a long time now. It’s all those sleek, graceful people doing impossible poses in the ads. They can bend in ways my body doesn’t even understand, and look amazing at the same time. They seem calm and at peace with the world. They wear pastels. What’s not to fear?
Okay, if I’m being totally honest, that’s not really it. Those pretty people are just a convenient excuse. The real reason I’m afraid of yoga is because I’m not very flexible. I’ve never been flexible, even as a kid. When I was diagnosed with scoliosis in junior high and forced to wear a back brace in high school, my flexibility got even worse. I don’t wear a brace anymore, but I still have a 30-degree curve in my spine, and my hips are in different places. The muscles in my lower back are so tight from trying to keep my spine straight that no chiropractor or massage therapist has ever gotten them to relax, not even a little.
So I’ve had chronic back problems my whole life, but they’re not the real problem. Lots of folks are worse off than me. The real problem is that my inflexibility embarrasses and frustrates me. It makes me feel weak. It saps my morale. The moment we start stretching in class, I morph into a defeatist. I “survive” stretching. That’s how I think of it, and I’ve never been able to fight my way out of that mindset.
Does that give you a little more insight into the depth of my yoga terror?
Nonetheless, I made myself sign up for today’s yoga workshop at my kung fu studio. Fear is never a good enough excuse. (Although I used it to avoid the first two yoga workshops last year. Sometimes bravery takes time.)
The verdict? It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be!
Okay, so I didn’t love it. There was simply too much pain and discomfort in some of the poses for me to go that far… at least for now. On the other hand — and this is a big other hand — I suspect yoga would improve me. It wasn’t so much about flexibility as about breathing properly and listening to yourself. My flexibility and balance and posture would all benefit from it. Yoga would improve my understanding of my body and its limits, and would help me to “breathe through them.”
All that improvement requires thought. I didn’t have time to contemplate my misery. I was too busy adjusting my weight distribution, breathing deep, and relaxing my body despite all the hard work it was doing. I found the visualizations to be incredibly helpful: imagining my heels rooting into the earth, picturing my breath traveling up the back of my body and down the front, envisioning the torso stretching up to the sky.
The first time the instructor came over to adjust my position, she paused, then asked if I had scoliosis. It seems that when I adjust myself, I end up crooked. I need to re-learn what straight is, so I can begin to train my spine to understand it. I have a lot of work ahead of me.
Our instructor said yoga had its own time–we held some poses for two minutes, and it felt like twenty. But I think the yoga time worked the other direction, too. The hour-and-a-half class was over far earlier than I expected.
And, strangely, far earlier than I wanted.