I know many women who got through the pandemic with the help of Adriene and other online yoga teachers in order to stay fit/sane. Like many of my friends, I was also working from home for more than a year, but I didn’t have the discipline or desire to do sun salutations in my small San Francisco apartment. Yoga might have helped me manage some of my overwhelming pandemic-, election-, and wildfire-related anxiety. But the simple truth is: I do not enjoy yoga. In part because my first introduction to it was a disaster.
Almost 20 years ago, when I was still new to California and in my “let’s try new things” phase (e.g., Internet dating, flying trapeze classes, firing guns at the local shooting range), my roommate talked me into going to my first-ever yoga class at the gym we had both joined.
Group fitness classes didn’t really appeal to me; I preferred to sweat it out, alone, on the cardio machines, where I could listen to my own music and go at my own pace. But sure, what the hell, I thought. Let’s try a yoga class. It’ll be good for me, right?
Instead it confused and frustrated me. At first, as I sat there cross-legged, listening to the instructor tell us to breathe and chant, I wondered when the exercise part of the program was going to start. When she finally announced poses for people to do, I didn’t know what the words meant, so I had to look at the people around me for direction. That’s when I realized I was the only one still wearing socks and shoes.
For the next five or ten minutes, I tried. I really did. But I couldn’t do any of the poses — things that seemed to come so naturally to everyone else in the room — and I didn’t understand the point of any of them. When would I ever stand in a “warrior one” pose in real life? (I dare you to try that at the post office and not scare people. Better yet, the DMV.) After mumbling “fuck this” under my breath, I told my roommate I’d be on the elliptical, grabbed my stuff, and started to sneak out.
Just as I reached the door of the studio, I heard the instructor call out to me, “It’s not for everyone!”
Many years later, when the Fitbit came out, I was walking 15,000+ steps a day, determined to stay in first place among my friends, the only time in my life I’ve ever been competitive. My back was in constant pain because I’d forget to stretch after five-mile walks. When Fitbit announced I could win their new scale if I did a class in their yoga app 20 times during the month of January, I signed up. I didn’t need the scale, but I did need a challenge, and maybe I would learn to like yoga if I could do it in my own home, on my own terms, alone.
Four or five nights a week that month, the instructor’s voice cooed me through half-hour beginner classes in my living room, telling me exactly where to put each limb. I was able to follow along, and quickly learned how to do all the poses. Except savasana — I wasn’t gonna lie there motionless when I could be doing something/anything else.
Once I completed Bendy January, I realized that my back hadn’t bothered me in weeks. Maybe there was something to this yoga business after all? And then I saw this video, about a disabled veteran who used yoga to transform his entire life. And while I could finally appreciate the physical benefits of yoga, I also recognized that there’s a lot more to this centuries-old practice that, as a white Westerner, I may never fully grasp.
I still don’t enjoy doing yoga — I will make an exception for when El Vez teaches Hangover Yoga at Tiki Oasis — but I do find myself returning to the hamstring and hip flexor stretches whenever I feel my lower back acting up.
So maybe it’s not that yoga is not for everyone. Maybe it’s just that some yoga teachers aren’t. And El Vez doesn’t live in San Francisco.
(Photo of Margaret and El Vez, courtesy of Catherine Sadler)