WMN.ph: What I learned after two weeks of yoga

I wrote this for a now-defunct site called WMN.ph. It was a site run by the GMA network, with content geared towards women. I wrote for them pretty regularly before I got married.

I can’t remember when the site was taken down, but I do remember I was so anguished that I hadn’t been able to save my articles. Since then it’s been my practice to save my online articles as PDFs. That way, even if the site goes down, I have proof that my work was published. 

Here’s something I wrote when I started practicing yoga, in 2009.

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Yoga. The word often evokes feelings of peace and tranquility, calmness and relaxation. It inspires images of healthy, beautiful people, often executing positions that require seemingly impossible flexibility and balance, as well as deep concentration and meditation. Say the word and people think of soft music and gentle breezes, waves lapping against the shore and eagles soaring above mountains, of Hindu gods and nirvana.

So with all this in mind, I decided I would give yoga a try. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

I wasn’t a complete stranger to the realities of yoga. My housemate, Paul, has been practicing yoga for four years now, both at home and in classes with different teachers. He’d often told me about his classes, the different techniques and styles different teachers had, the diet required. I knew it wasn’t easy, but I didn’t think it would be so difficult!

For the past five months, I’ve been jogging, walking, boxing, kicking, and skipping rope, all in the hopes of getting into better shape, and getting healthier. I’ve been trying to watch my diet as well, and all the effort has been paying off. Friends and relatives have commented that I look better, thinner, more toned. Even I have noticed that I don’t get sick as often, and am no longer plagued by persistent colds, headaches, nausea, and all the other ailments of a weak immune system. In other words, I’m stronger, more fit, in better shape. I figured: I was able to survive a 10-kilometer marathon. I can do yoga!

Well, here’s what I learned after four sessions of yoga:

1) Yoga is not all peace, tranquility, and relaxation, not when you start, at least. In my head, it’s more like, “Aaaaack! Eeeeek! Aaargh! Okay I’m falling now.” Then later, it’s, “Pain! Pain! Ouch! Oh drat I fell again.” The peace and tranquility comes later, when you’re more confident about your stance and capabilities. This is true of many physical activities.

2) People who are awesome at yoga, meaning they can do more advanced positions, achieve strength in stillness. This is not some profound nugget of wisdom, nor an epithet. I mean this literally. Do you know how difficult it is to keep still? For ten breaths? In seated position for 15 minutes? In Corpse pose for 20 minutes? It isn’t easy. I keep looking around to see if I’m doing the right thing, if everyone else has fallen asleep, if they’ve moved to a new pose and I didn’t hear the instructor.

3) Strength in stillness also means that, yes, you do need strength to do yoga, not just balance and flexibility. Sure, you can twist and bend your limbs and joints into the Eagle pose, but can you maintain it? Having the strength to do it properly means being able to maintain the pose correctly for five to ten, even twenty breaths. That’s no picnic.

4) Cholesterol, fat, salt and sugar are awful food choices on yoga days. If you can abstain from such foods starting from the night before, even better! Consumption of such foods makes you feel heavy and sluggish, and the salt in particular increases your water retention. It’s better to stick to fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates and fiber. I learned this the hard way, which is really the best way to learn anything, I think. One Monday night before yoga, a friend came over to make dinner. We had steak, potatoes, butter-laden clam chowder, cold cuts and mozzarella, and pasta. The next day, I regretted it! I was heavy, weak, and extremely uncomfortable. Lesson learned! After that, it was oatmeal, pasta, juices, fish and bread for me!

5) Doing various exercises one after the other may not be such a good idea in conjunction with yoga. On one day before yoga, I went jogging for the first time in about two weeks. Naturally my legs got tired, and my muscles ached. This didn’t help me at yoga the next day, because they were still tired and aching. Forcing them into unnatural positions was probably not the best therapy. Adequate rest between different exercises is always good.

6) Despite only two weeks of yoga, I’ve already seen some improvement in my flexibility! I have a punching bag at home, and I’ve been learning to kick. Already I can extend my right leg further, and kick higher up the bag! Hopefully my left leg will follow suit soon. I never imagined only two weeks of yoga could yield such quick results.

7) Perhaps the best lesson I keep learning is patience. I’ve been working out for five months, and only now do I feel like my muscles are toning up, that I’m losing my flab. It took me five months to get into this shape, and I could still use some improvement. So I can hardly expect to be the elastic Mr. Fantastic after only two weeks of yoga, right? In time my abs will be strong enough for the Boat pose. In time my hips can stretch enough for the seated poses. In time my upper back will be strong enough to support my torso and maintain my posture.

In the meantime, I plod along, attending to my breath, happy that I can at least do the Sun Salutation.

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