Why I Love Yoga (and sometimes Pilates)

My relationship with yoga is relatively new, especially compared to my history with running, but it’s become a welcome change of pace for me. In college I suppose I knew what yoga was, in the sense that I knew it was something that peaceful, flowy clothes-wearing, patient people did to meditate. (This was before I knew about lululemon and all that jazz, so maybe I would have had a slightly different, more black spandex-y impression.) Honestly, I figured it was slow and boring and easy, and that I’d be really bad at it since I’m definitely not flexible.

I’m so glad I was wrong. During senior year, my roommate started going to a “yogalates” class at the school gym. She showed me a few of the poses at home (I particularly remember a demonstration of happy baby), and I thought maybe I’d like to try this. I would not peg Emily as someone who would particularly love a slow, boring hour of stretching, so there had to be something more to it. So I went! Probably once a week or so that spring, in my cotton leggings and American Apparel tees because that’s what she wore. I liked taking time to recognize my posture and focus on aligning my back, arms, and legs in new ways.

When I moved to DC after college, I did a bit of research and discovered that the lululemon in Georgetown (where my office was) did free yoga every Sunday at noon. I’m slightly embarrassed that in a year and a half of living 3.5 miles away, I never made it. I’ll blame the lack of metro access to Georgetown… Then I discovered Groupon and Livingsocial and studios that offered “$10 for one week unlimited” for new students. For Christmas I received a yoga mat. One early January Saturday morning, I sat in the Dupont Circle studio of Yoga District, ready to learn. I could see the cold grey January sky through the skylights, but the studio, with its hardwood floors and slanted ceilings, was warm and welcoming. The instructor pretty quickly picked up on the fact that there were a lot of new students, so she paused throughout the class to give instruction on proper technique. As I would attend more classes at Yoga District, I’d see other teachers occasionally also take the time to explain that for up dog, your knees and thighs should be lifted, and other simple but concrete instructions. I admit I never paid full price for an unlimited pass, but this studio was my first little yoga home. I tried some styles of yoga I really didn’t like, and some that I loved. And again, while I was running this whole time, taking the time to flow through yoga sequences brought a heightened awareness that running hadn’t, and best of all, I could transfer it to running. Now I knew how to zone in on the tilt of my hips or even how to focus on just this one thing for right now, which yoga seems to force me to do.

Then my roommate and I discovered Stroga, which we’d regularly been walking past on our way from Woodley Park to Adams Morgan. For a while, they were hosting the Logan Circle lululemon community (free) class on Sunday afternoons. We bought Groupons and Livingsocials, and the 6am Wednesday class became my go-to. And when our classes were about to expire, we’d squeeze in a restorative yoga class, which we affectionately referred to as “nap time for grown ups.” This is the studio where I did my first headstand, with a teacher who stayed with me after class for a bit of extra support. I also took a few pilates classes here. They were challenging in a totally different way from yoga, but in a good way.

There were a few other studios I tried (through Groupon/Livingsocial deals or new student passes), including one studio for which I bought a 15 class pass (it was only $15!) and then never went because none of the class times were convenient… oops. And a hot yoga studio for which I used 2 of the 5 classes I purchased, but was too disgusted by the cramped and moist room to go back. I get it that people are sweating and whatnot, but I need more than 3 inches between my face and someone else’s armpit. Once or twice I attended a lululemon yoga session in the middle of Dupont Circle, but it was hard to focus with bugs and spectators.

So now that I’m in Durham, the lululemon Southpoint community yoga class on Sunday mornings is my regular place of practice. They have different teachers each week, which means you don’t know what kind of class you’re getting into. I like the variety though. One day my friend and I showed up and it was a partners yoga workshop. If I had known ahead of time, I might not have gone, or I might have felt weird suggesting that we go, but instead it was actually a lot of fun, and yet another experience of focusing on my balance and alignment. And sure a lot of people in the class are wearing lululemon stuff, but plenty more aren’t, and I like that. You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re wearing the right or wrong thing to practice.

sunday yoga 2

In the past week or so, I’ve gone to a “free first class” at two studios in Durham. I liked both of them, especially the second one because it has a lot more class options, but they’re not convenient for after work, and I can’t (or choose not to) justify paying for a real membership. Perhaps if the studio were closer to work or to home, I’d get there. I do think that a better model than “free first class” is a significantly reduced cost one week pass, so that people can try a variety of classes and instructors. If something wasn’t great about the one class I went to for free, I’m not going to shell out money for a monthly pass. However, if I could try a few, there’s a greater chance I’d mesh well with a class and want to come back.

Practicing at home is another step in yoga development that I haven’t reached. Sure, I do my Jillian Michaels Yoga Meltdown DVD occasionally, but that is clearly not the same. And I’ve led my parents through a few sequences after our runs when I’m at home, but that mostly ends in laughter because as much as I’m not flexible, my dad is REALLY not flexible. Maybe I’ll add “establish a weekly at-home yoga practice” to my goals list…

Anyway, the point of this post! Yoga is challenging! And helpful! If you think it’s just stretching and waving your arms around and that you’ll be bored the whole hour, I highly encourage you to seek out a flow yoga class. While you’re there, focus on how your body feels and on listening to the cues from the instructor to get your alignment right, and you may be surprised that your legs are shaking or that you’ve actually done quite a few planks and push-ups. But if those planks and push-ups scare you, don’t be! As they say, child’s pose is always available to you, and no one cares if you sit out a sequence or two.

Childs pose (source). Not so difficult, right?

I’m less experienced with pilates, but after a class on Tuesday night, I was hyper aware of my posture and my abs throughout my run on Wednesday, and I bet a more regular pilates routine would cure all sorts of ills. (Maybe it’s time for me to look for a pilates specific studio?) So I encourage you to give yoga a chance, neither flowy clothes nor lululemon pants are required.

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