Writing

Breathing Easily as I Yoga Myself to Death

I realized that yoga was not going to be the breeze I thought it would be when the instructor told me to touch my toes and I couldn’t do it. Standing there with my hair draped over face, I’d failed at yoga in the first thirty seconds.

Stretching, apparently, is difficult.

Due to my writing habits, I’ve gotten a bit out of shape. Who knew that sitting around ten hours a day isn’t good for your muscles? Not me. Or at least I’d ignored it until that day when I ran up the stairs and arrived out of breath.

After nearly killing myself with a dance aerobics video, I glibly decided that something a bit more sedate would serve me every other day and so went on Youtube in search of a yoga video.

I have actually done yoga before, back in high school during my two semesters of required gym class. That aerobics class (read: girls gym) consisted of fifteen grumpy teenagers in the wrestling room following various outdated exercise tapes for twenty minutes, five mornings a week. It was more tedious than nightmarish, as the videos tended to consist of spectacularly blond men in leotards shouting, “Come on ladies, are those crickets or just your knees creaking?!”

But every Wednesday the muscle-building hulks were replaced by a quiet Asian man with a soothing voice who sat on a beach in a speedo and instructed us to “soften our eyes.” Wednesday was yoga day.

We didn’t have to do yoga; our gym teacher had noticed what our schoolboard hadn’t, that teenagers who finished sporting events at ten PM and were forced to catch the school bus before seven AM the following day were sorely sleep-deprived. On Wednesdays she gave us two options: do yoga, or sleep.

I, having already had a nice nap in physics class, opted for the former.

It wasn’t rigorous, more a matter of sitting quietly and relaxing various muscles while stretching them out. Coupled with the instructor’s calming tones, it was actually quite a lovely exercise in waking up. By the time the fifteen-minute VHS tape finished and I joined the other girls in lying on the fetid wrestling mats for a few winks, I always felt refreshed and alert.

With that in mind, when I went searching for a yoga video the other day I googled “Asian man yoga beach soothing voice,” and wouldn’t you know it, I found that same dude first click: Rodney Yee, famous yoga expert. I pulled up the video and prepared myself for some lovely, soothing stretching.

The first video was fine. Five minutes long, it had me move my body in various ways as Rodney (may I call him Rodney?) told me to breathe evenly. Perfect. I mean, I couldn’t touch my toes while this guy was putting his palms flat on the ground, but hey, that’s why he’s an expert and I’m not, right? Right.

After five minutes, I was feeling good, much better than I had with the dance aerobics. So when the video segued directly into a “strength building for beginners” yoga sequence, I kept going.

We began by doing lots of downward dog. Now, I don’t know if you know what downward dog is, but I’ll describe it. Downward dog looks basically like when my mom tells the dogs to “bow to the mommy!” when they put their front legs forward and stretch, but with human proportions. That is to say, it does not resemble a dog at all. Bum in the air, arms straight, palms on the ground, and, if you’re the yoga instructor, soles of your feet flat on the yoga mat and not just your toes as you realize that this position is not actually conducive to breathing and you don’t have a yoga mat.

“Observe the cycle of your breathing. Is it easy?”

No, Rodney, no it bloody isn’t.

But I did as he said, relaxed my neck and breathed, if not easily, at least evenly, and pushed on through various lunges and jumps and unsuccessful attempts to reach the floor without having to bounce up and down on my own spine. It all went well until we reached triangle pose.

Ah, triangle pose.

In downward dog, you make a sort of triangle between yourself and the floor, but that is not triangle pose. Triangle pose is made when you extend one leg back and the other forward in a not-quite-splits position while steadying yourself with the fingertips from one arm steadying you on the carpet as the other reaches straight over your head towards the ceiling.

And then you whimper “I’m a Little Teapot” for the next thirty seconds to distract yourself from the excruciating pain in your entire body. You follow that by doing it all over again on the other side.

This was the end. There could be nothing worse than this, I was certain. Yoga was going to kill me.

Alas, it seemed that before it took the final stroke, yoga had decided to play with me first, because the next position was basically triangle position. But instead of pleading to heaven with a hand pointing toward the light fixture, you strove to reach the wall by planting your arm in the air a few inches above your leaning head in a side bend. There were probably a few other differences too, but by this point I was too busy contemplating the fact that I hadn’t moved more than three inches and simultaneously couldn’t catch my breath to really notice these small details.

We switched sides after thirty seconds, me increasingly aware of the way the veins in my eyes had become visible to myself. I concluded that death was eminent and contented myself with a headstone that read “Breathing evenly requires the ability to breathe.” When the pose ended, I was certain I would quit.

We stood up in mountain pose, our arms came down…

The video was over. I’d survived.

Actually, I felt pretty great. Surprisingly good. Refreshed. Like how when the children of a repressive school system that forces them to wake up at six-bloody-AM every morning to attend the world’s most boring classes are suddenly given the choice to steal back some sleep or enjoy a bit of waking-up, I too could revel in my sudden ability to soften my throat and relax my shoulders of my own volition. Nobody was forcing me to do triangle pose, and so I’d give it a try and do my best.

And now, three times a week, I do.

Have you ever tried yoga? Was it more difficult than you thought it’d be? Easier? How about any other types of popular exercise? Share your experiences below, funny or lamenting or just plain odd!

You can also read my post on death by dance aerobics, or come see what’s happening on Twitter.

Thanks for reading!

[Photo courtesy of Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay, public domain.]

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