“You want me to do what with my what?” is a question I tend to ask constantly when I do yoga, and the new Community Yoga class I started two weeks ago has been no exception. The particular practice in the class focuses on coordinating repetitive movement and breath with the intention of building a foundation of strength and connection to your body. In my most recent class, we were told to lift our urethra up into our pelvis as we breathe out to create a foundation of balance. Essentially it is the opposite of trying to pee. Give it a try. Super comfortable feeling right? Nope. However, as I often discover while doing yoga, it is a strange movement to work a muscle group I never think of, but it is highly effective.
About a week before my first class of Community Yoga I was speaking to my therapist about feeling disconnected. My family is far away, some of my closest friends had recently moved, and I had left the job I had since leaving Minnesota. The Pacific Northwest was beginning to feel less like home. While speaking with my therapist it did not take me long to realize that I have been playing it safe, staying home most evenings and weekends not wanting to have to deal with the unpredictability of the outside world. I was not making new friends and getting out of my comfort zone. This relieves my anxiety, but heightens my depression. It was time to work on getting out of my funk. My therapist and I went through a list of activities I liked to do and brainstormed ways I can do these activities on a regular basis and meet new people. I ended the session motivated but with a bit of trepidation. Most of the activities I like I prefer to do alone, and I am not be very intense about them. People in the Pacific Northwest tend to be intense about their hobbies and activities. Would I find people who are more chill?
One of my favorite activities is exercising, but I do it alone in the gym, outside, or in my home. I do not want to have to worry about people watching me or the competitiveness that comes from comparing myself to others. I did a Zumba class for awhile with a friend when we were in college, and every class was a reminder to me of how uncoordinated I am and how graceful everyone else at least appeared to be. I only continued the class because I wanted to hang out with my friend, but I knew it was not something I wanted to do again. However, exercise now seemed like the most obvious activity I could use to branch out into my community. There are many different groups and forms of exercise to choose from. Maybe Zumba was just the wrong activity. Maybe I could use the skills I have learned since college to get past my anxious thoughts. I decided to give it a try again.
Most exercise classes are over a specific set of weeks and held on a specific day. They require a large sum of money up front before the weeks of the class begin. This is not ideal for me. My work schedule is not consistent, my RA symptoms are unpredictable, and I cannot afford to put down a large sum of money when I didn’t know if I will like the class. After a couple days of research, I clicked on a website for a Community Yoga class. To my surprise and delight, it was set up differently than other classes: you could sign up for one class at a time up to twelve hours before the class and you pay as you are able. Perfect. I have dabbled with yoga in the past, and I knew it was something I wanted to learn more about. I would do my best to work past my anxieties. This class seemed like the perfect way to get my feet wet with group exercise.
When I arrived for the first class on a rainy Saturday morning (so a typical morning in the PNW), I was happy to find the yoga studio located in a cozy house in an average, working class neighborhood. This was not a place where I needed Lululemon yoga pants to fit in. I felt welcome. The class was small, only five of use in total, and we were tucked together side by side so no one was behind us to judge our runners lunge or warrior three. My fellow classmates were not intimidating, perfectly fit yogis currently on the third day of their juice cleanse. They were average people, just like me, looking for a bit of exercise and connection that fits with their schedule and budget. The instructor began our session in a calm but stern voice as she informed us that this was not going to be easy. If we wanted easy yoga, we needed to go somewhere else. We began a session that was very different than the relaxing routine of stretching I was expecting, and I left the studio with very confused and angry glutes. I had spent an hour pushing my muscles to the limit and breathing in unison with four other women who were in pursuit of the best they can do, not in pursuit of perfection. It was brilliant.
My second class was easier from the first in regards to muscle exertion, but I did gain a new appreciation of the difficulty of coordinating breath with movement. It requires a combination of concentration and letting go. It feels the best when you no longer have to think about it and can allow your body and breath to move together almost instinctively. I experience a connection with myself and with the others around me. I stopped caring about what I looked like and was centered in the position of my body and the feeling of my breath. These moments did not last long, but they left an impression. Yoga has become more to me than just relaxing through stretching; it has become a means to build a foundation of strength, balance, and connection to myself and others. The anxiety of judgement from others is still there, but I think that this time, the more I go the less I will feel and anxiety.
The next class I do will be a level up from the previous two. It will be for one and a half hours and will work my muscles even more. I hope my muscles can handle the extra challenge, or if they can’t, that I am able to show myself compassion and find humor as I wobble on the mat.