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The Yoga Chronicles, Part 1: An Old (Downward) Dog Learns New Tricks

This is the first of a series of articles following Allen Wallace’s first try at yoga. Our friends at Yoga Masala and Masala on Main invited him to try four classes per week for a month and share his experiences. These are his experiences, and believe us when we say he should not be considered a yoga expert. If he confuses cheetah and lizard, be gentle.

Let’s begin with the end, shall we? It took less than a week for me to go from novice to convert. I officially love yoga, and will be doing it long after this series is done.

Those who don’t know me should probably be aware of some basic facts. I’m 45 years old, 5’7”, somewhere around 210 pounds, and to say I’m out of shape would be an understatement.

The author, ready for his first class Sept. 12

Until Sept. 12, I had never participated in yoga. As a reporter, I’d covered some yoga events and made some friends in the yoga community, and learned to appreciate their way of looking at the world. To actually join in, though, was a different thing entirely.

This year has brought a lot of changes in my life, some good and some bad, and in many ways I’ve found myself restarting at 45. So, when Kyra Strasberg, owner of Masala on Main and Yoga Masala, invited me to try yoga and write about it, I jumped at the chance (figuratively speaking, because actual jumping would be exercise).

I had no idea what to expect in my first class. I went yoga shopping, acquiring compression shorts (yoga pants for men do exist, for the record, but mine haven’t arrived yet) and a mat. However, I intentionally did no research. If I was going to be a rookie, I wanted to go in cold and let my teachers teach.

I learned a great deal in the last eight days (and five classes). We’ll delve deeper as I delve deeper in weeks to come, but for now, here are the top 10 lessons from my first week of practice.

  1. Yoga really is for everyone. Yes, there are plenty of young women, but plenty of others too. In five classes, I have yet to be the only man or the oldest person in the room. It’s far more diverse in age, gender and race than stereotypes might suggest. Yoga Masala even hosts classes for people with special needs.
  2. You don’t have to be in shape. Yes, it is difficult. However, I’ve also found plenty of people at my level of fitness (or even below) joining in, and we’ve all found success. The instructors will help you find what works best for you. Yes, I have often looked at the person beside me and said “Um, my body doesn’t bend that way.” Maybe one day it will, but for now there are other versions of the same pose that I can do.
  3. No one will judge you. In my second class ever, I found myself with my mat between two ladies who had no trouble whatsoever with poses which left me with cramps in my hamstrings and hips and feeling a bit embarrassed. Both offered nothing but encouragement.
  4. Not all classes are the same. I’ve been in classes with three different instructors now. I loved them all, but their styles are very different, from the poses to their teaching style to their choices of music (Douglas Herlong’s music has been my favorite so far. “Come Together” was a particular highlight.)
  5. The teachers will push you, but in good ways. In the long, long, long ago days of my youth, I was an athlete. I played soccer and have been through some truly hellish practices. Yoga is definitely a serious workout. However, no one will scream at you. No one will tell you you’re letting the team down. They’ll encourage you to push yourself, but they’ll understand that each person has different limits.
  6. It really does feel good. Yes, you’ll probably be sore. My restorative class Sunday left me wanting to do nothing but lie in a bed and not move. But the teachers are not lying when they tell you they enjoy the feelings the poses bring. Your body opens up, and even after just five classes, I can feel the difference.
  7. It really is calming. Minor confession that may not surprise many of you: I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. Yoga is not a magic cure, but even in a week, it’s had a more positive effect on me than a number of very expensive medications I’ve tried over the years. A person more familiar with the practice could probably explain it better, but here’s my attempt: yoga class allows me to focus on my body, and on feeling rather than thinking. That’s a very rare thing for me, a person who thinks far too much in many cases.
  8. When they say “hot yoga,” they are not joking. The hot room at Yoga Masala is just that. The HVAC system is used to crank up the temperature, and if you’re at all like me, you will sweat. Oh, wow, will you sweat. Dealing with the heat has been my biggest struggle in week one, but I can already see the advantages (for one, I feel less sore after a hot workout).
  9. The culture goes along with the exercise. Yoga isn’t a religion, but there are, for want of a better word, spiritual aspects. Calming your mind, tending to your spirit (or your soul, or your emotions, or whatever you prefer to call the non-physical part of yourself) is very much a part of things. I’m sure somewhere in the world of yoga practitioners, there must be unkind people, because they are as human as the rest of us. I’ve never yet met one, though. Whether speaking to them as a reporter, as a friend, or as a student, the teachers and fellow students I’ve met have never failed to welcome me and go out of their way to help me.
  10. It’s not prohibitively expensive. Kyra and her staff asked nothing of me but to come and practice and share my experiences. I’m not in any way required to mention costs, and this is an honest account, not a commercial. I’m an honest convert, and I want you to know there are a variety of options, from dropping in to weekly, monthly or yearly membership. There’s also a sale happening right now, but it ends Sept. 20.

More to come next week!

Featured image: Shelley Jones leading students in the first ever class for Allen Wallace (not pictured).

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