Thursday, June 20, 2013

Yoga and Me

Sometime in early May I started taking yoga classes at my gym. I had been wanting to try the classes for quite a while, for almost a year, but never had the guts to get myself there. I had taken a few classes about ten years ago but became so frustrated with it that after three classes, I stopped going. I think my frustration was with the fact that I couldn't do most of the poses that were demonstrated. I felt awkward and fat. There was nothing peaceful or relaxing about that for me.

I decided several weeks before my wedding that it would be a good time to try yoga again because from what I had learned, it could really help with stress management. And I was trying to stay as calm and collected before the wedding as possible. Especially because stress exacerbates autoimmune symptoms. I was still self conscious about trying it because in my delusional mind, yoga was for fit people, not someone who at one point was seventy pounds heavier, still overweight, and had the joints of an eighty year old. However the gym I go to has several different levels of yoga classes that are included in my membership fee. I figured that I had nothing to lose if I tried yoga again; except for maybe my pride.

The first class I tried was called Yoga Fusion and was a combination of yoga and Pilates. I thought this was a logical place to start because I had been doing Pilates classes whenever my body could tolerate it and I really enjoyed Pilates. I was wrong. Yoga and Pilates in the same class is very hard, especially when you do not have a good grasp of the concept of yoga to being with.

So I tried a different class called Gentle Yoga. This particular class is offered at my gym several times a week. Currently I attend classes with two different instructors and both of them are fantastic. They are patient, helpful and never once have they made me feel like I don't belong there. I accept their correction in my poses without hesitation and every week, I learn something new.

Gentle yoga was the right choice for me because now, I am hooked on yoga. Typically, in one of the two classes I attend, I am the youngest person in the room. At first, part of me wished I could do a more advanced class and not feel like my body was at least thirty years older than it actually is. However this is one of the lessons and gifts that yoga has given me: it is helping me to fall in love with my body and to have more of an appreciation of what it CAN do. And realistically, my body cannot do more yoga than a gentle class. Even the gentle class is very tough for me at times because a lot of the postures require me to bear a lot of weight on my most troublesome joints, including my fingers, wrists, and shoulders.

But I keep going. This is still relatively new to me and I am hoping that as time passes, my joints and muscles will become more accustomed to what I am trying to do with them. Typically, even when I go to class in pain, I leave in much less pain. The problem is about 12-24 hours later when everything tightens up and my joints feel the effect of all that weight bearing. However I agree with the philosophy that consistent exercise is more beneficial than harmful to my joints, so I keep plugging away at it.

I also find yoga difficult at times because it is hard for me to coordinate the breathing aspect of yoga with learning and performing the postures. That being said, it is well worth the effort. I have noticed a definite improvement in my overall well being since starting yoga. I have also noticed that on the days when I go to class, I have more energy than I typically do. I cannot explain it or do it justice but yoga appears to give me a sense of serenity and calm that I very much need in my life. When I am sitting there breathing and holding a posture, I am not thinking about the things that my body cannot do. I am not thinking that I feel fat or that I don't look like a stereotypical yoga groupie. Most of the time, I am just thinking about how the hell I am going to keep that posture up before I collapse or topple over. And yes, that has happened!

But seriously, yoga is a powerful form of exercise that is helping me to be more accepting of my body. I talk a good talk about how we should all be accepting of our bodies and I do firmly believe that. But I do not always practice what I preach when it comes time to look at myself in the mirror. Somehow, yoga has helped me to look in the mirror and now sometimes be able to look at the positive aspects facing back at me rather than looking at my body with contempt and disdain. I see the upper arm muscles that have toned up. I see muscle definition in my legs as they appear smaller than a few months ago. Most importantly, I feel more at peace with who I am as well as who I am becoming.

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