About four years ago, I told my dad that I felt like I was a hippie in a conservative girl’s body. He said I sounded confused.

I made the comment because I was thinking about how I wanted to camp and hike and bike to work and take pottery and travel without wearing makeup and wear flowing skirts and go to farmer’s markets. I wanted to let go of my inhibitions and feel free. And get into yoga.

I have several friends and family members who are yoga skeptics. I used to be one of them. I didn’t consider it much of a workout and I thought all of the talk about peace and love and the liquid body was, well, cheesy and out there and spacey. I also didn’t feel all that comfortable with my body and felt like everyone who did yoga was already strong and flexible and would judge me.

The first time I took a class, I was on the eighth floor of a high-rise building in Hong Kong. The room had a wall of mirrors and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Kowloon, Victoria Harbor and the South China Sea. The instructor in spandex talked with a breathy voice saying “Goooood” over and over again (I can still hear him and it gives me the heebie-jeebies). The first time he adjusted me into a pose, I was creeped out. I didn’t want some guy grabbing my hips to pull me back into a more accurate downdog. The next day, I was so sore I could barely move, and the day after that I had a fever and couldn’t lift my body out of my rock-hard twin bed. I called in sick to my editor at Time Asia. I had eaten dirty prawns on Cheung Chau island and came down with Montezuma’s revenge. To be sore and sick at the same time was torture, and I associated the pain with yoga. That was seven years ago.

A year or two later, I went to a class or two in Chicago with friends who were into it. I was reluctant, but still wanted to be open minded. When I moved to D.C., I upped my frequency and started to go about once every two weeks. Even though it was expensive, there was something that was drawing me back to class. I couldn’t place why, but I wanted to get better at it. It was a nice antidote to running. But I also didn’t know that going once every few weeks wasn’t enough to get the full benefits.

In the past week, I’ve gone to four level-two classes.

Here is what I have learned:

  • It’s an incredible workout at the higher levels — in fact, it kicks my ass;
  • When I get into the poses correctly, I’m squeezing the stress out of my muscles;
  • No one is judging me. Most people who go to yoga are open-minded and want everyone to love it as much as they do;
  • I am breathing deeply and heavily into my lungs for an hour. This is something we never take the time to do day-to-day and it also releases stress;
  • I am focused on a while light behind my eyes (Ok, well I try, I try hard), and my worries (are supposed to and usually mostly do) melt away;
  • When I get into the balance poses comfortably — and this only happened tonight because I’m going regularly — the physical balance translates into an emotional balance;
  • I’m doing positive self-talk, something that I never felt comfortable with before. During yoga, you pick an intention. I never really knew what this meant, but I think it’s because it’s different for everyone. For me, I choose something I’m feeling insecure about, and I repeat the opposite positive thing to myself (i.e. “I am gorgeous” or “I am loved.”)

The result is a tingly feeling at the end of class — the yoga buzz. Anything I had angst about pre-class seems less stressful and much easier to manage.

I was feeling anxious today, so I promised myself I would take the time for yoga. I find it’s more important to go when the days are short and cold and I’m not getting Vitamin D from the sun. During January, I often feel blah and unmotivated. But after my class tonight, I feel peaceful, happy, tingly and full of love. And yes, I know that sounds hippie.


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