This is the second 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. You can find Part 1 here.
I’m now two weeks into my yoga education. For those of you who are new here, I’m 45, overweight, and have been in dire need of exercise for some time.
Yoga has supplied that exercise, to say the least. I expected that, though I was completely ignorant of the details as I began. What I did not expect was the positive mental effect it’s had on me from the beginning, and the way that effect is growing as I keep practicing.
My mind tends to race at all times. I’m always thinking, sometimes far more than I should. It’s often a problem for me in a variety of ways. I’m not suggesting two weeks of learning the difference between downward dog and warrior can change that, but it has already had an impact.
My teachers (Douglas Herlong, Laura Hughes, and Shelley Jones so far) have different methods and styles, but all emphasize making the brain, both thoughts and emotions, part of the exercise.
Breathing is a thing we generally do unconsciously, but it does not take long in a hot yoga room with the temperature at or above 100 degrees to realize that in some situations, focusing on breathing makes all the difference.
It affects things physically too, without a doubt. I’ve found I can do the majority of the things my teachers demonstrate, but I have no endurance. When I remember to breathe, it makes a significant difference (I still don’t have a lot of endurance, but I’m working on that). It also contributes to yoga’s nearly unique (in my experience) ability to occupy my mind while exercising my body.
“Nothing else can come into your brain. It’s that repetition, returning to the breath, that brings stillness,” Herlong told us during Monday night’s class. “That’s the discipline. That’s the practice. Turn to your breath. Turn to your body. Get out of your head.”
There are so many details in a yoga class, so many things on which to focus which I would never think of automatically. Moving your heart forward, opening your rib cage, taking up more space without moving (it makes sense when you’re there, and maybe I’ll be able to explain it better by part four of this series).
There is also encouragement from the teachers to let worries and anxiety and overthinking leave your mind as the toxins are sweated out of your body (more on the latter next week). I’ve been sitting here, staring at the screen as I type this column, and trying to explain why it works. I can’t. Those who know me know I don’t talk often about my feelings (opinions, yes, but not feelings), but the feelings of peace and love in a yoga class are almost palpable. I can’t tell you why, but I’ve experienced it.
“This is your time to feel alive and loved,” Herlong said Monday. It absolutely is, and having eight hours of that time over the last two weeks has had at least as much impact on my brain as the physical side of those hours has had on my body.
Herlong also explained that the feeling need not end when class does. “The feeling of love and peace and no judgment is always with you,” she said. “You just have to find a time in the stillness to remind yourself.”
That last is something I haven’t come close to accomplishing yet, but I’ve become convinced it possible. That, in my opinion, is a good start.
More to come next week!