This is the third 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 and Part 2 here.
“Inner peace isn’t about 100 percent silence all the time. It’s about being able to slow down enough to notice if you’ve added a later that isn’t necessary right now, a layer of exasperation of judgment.”
So we’re three weeks into the journey, and I’m more determined than ever to continue it past the planned month of trying it. I’ve also seen some progress, though obviously there’s so much more to learn. For this week, I wanted to share, in no particular order, some of the things I’ve learned.
- Music: When I began yoga, I expected any music to be instrumental New Age type stuff (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’m a word person (as you may have guessed), so I was pleasantly surprised when I found that music choice varies even more than most other things depending on the class and the teacher. I’ve discovered new songs I really like: I don’t know how I missed out on the greatness of “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey until now, but better late than never. I’ve learned that “Summer Breeze” is not only a yacht rock classic but also a perfect yoga song. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and found some extra energy when an instructor chooses a song long on the list of those which always lift my mood, like the Beatles’ “Come Together,” “Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl,” and Carole King’s “Where You Lead” (which gets extra points for its Gilmore Girls connection). I even discovered some sudden dust in the room Tuesday evening when Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” played. I even have a yoga playlist now. Enjoy.
- Hot Yoga: Yes, it’s hot. Very, very, very hot. The teacher selects the temperature, but it’s often 100 degrees or slightly more. Sound miserable? I won’t lie to you, there are rough moments. I’ve been reminded that I sweat as much as three normal humans (Hard to believe I’m single, right?). Especially the first couple of times, I wasn’t sure the hot room was for me. However, it’s grown on me. It’s more difficult, but in good ways. I’m far from an expert on the science of sweating out toxins, but the feeling after an hour or so of hot yoga is a clean feeling. That may sound odd, but it’s true. I also feel less sore after hot yoga workouts. My English major’s guess is that the heat helps keep the muscles looser, but the result is definitely there regardless of the explanation.
- Not-Hot Yoga: Not all yoga takes place in heated rooms, of course. I’ve been going back and forth between the two in this month of exploration, and personally I like the variety. The cooler
temperatures can make it easier to focus on getting the poses just right. I’ve found as I’ve talked to some fellow students that some swear by the hot room and some prefer the cooler air. I like both. The moral of the story, as with so much in yoga, is that each person should find their own practice. It’s not a one size must fit all thing.
- Yoga pants: Speaking of one size fits all: yes, yoga pants for men exist. I ordered some for myself: not the tight kind, but a style known as “Thai fisherman pants.” I did not expect the challenge which ensued. The pants come in one very large size, and the wearer is expected to fold, tuck, and tie them to fit, using a method described in multiple videos and other tutorials online. I have not yet mastered this method. I can report that the pants, even worn without the required adjustments, are insanely comfortable. Once I master them, I’ll wear them outside of my house.
- Things I Do Not Have: This list, at the moment, includes arm strength, endurance, balance, and grace. Three weeks in, I am improving, and I can do most of the things demonstrated by the instructors. Staying power, though, is lacking. Downward dog is a pretty essential pose, and I can get into it without a problem, but my arms and wrists just don’t want to hold me there for very long. My tree pose resembles a tree swaying back and forth in a strong wind. I see fellow students and instructors flow gracefully from one pose to the next. I still resemble a lumbering robot lacking oil for his joints like the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz. Still, those around me make me feel welcome, and I’m getting better.
- Things I Do Have: Cramps. Oh, the cramps. I’ve been reminded of the importance of drinking lots and lots of water, and for those reading, not letting yourself get as out of shape as I was at the start would be a good idea. I’m getting better in this area too, but one of my more embarrassing moments involved a hamstring cramp, a small squeaking sound, and falling over.
- Small Things: Tiny adjustments in a pose can make gigantic differences. The instructors I’ve had are so, so good at helping me make those adjustments. Struggling and very uncomfortable and unaware my teacher was nearby, I felt a hand lightly brush my shoulder from the top down, and the instructor’s voice quietly say “Make your shoulders soft.” Delivered so subtly and so pleasantly, the message was clear, and the change in feeling as I obeyed was anything but subtle. As many have told me, pain often means you’re doing it wrong.
- At the end of each class, during savasana, the pose of total relaxation, instructors come around and place a cool wet cloth scented with lavender over the eyes of each student who wants one. I wish I could properly express how amazing this feels, particularly at the end of a hot session. It was a complete surprise the first time (my eyes were closed and I did not even know Shelley Jones was nearby when she placed it on my face), and one of the best feelings of my life. It sounds small, but the impact is anything but.
- At the end of savasana, some instructors ring a bell. I’ve always loved the sound of bells, and this clear chime is a sound that speaks volumes. It means the relaxation pose is over and class is ending, but it brings another feeling of cleansing. It’s as clean a sound as I can imagine, and a reminder that many bad things can be left behind, wiped away with the sweat on the mat.
There’s also, for me, a feeling of gratitude every time I go to a class. The people who teach yoga, and the people who learn from them, are overwhelmingly kind. It’s a great place to be.