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Reflections on Starting Yoga

Meditative pose

Have you or a loved one been considering getting into yoga? Maybe someone has tried pressuring you to take a class and, for whatever reason, you just weren't feeling it? Maybe you're one of those people who thinks yoga's for hipster chicks and soy boys, or just that the whole New Age, hippy-dippy stuff seems kinda weird to you.

I just got back from a class today and thought I'd share my experience with you to give you some perspective to aide in your decision-making.

But first, a little backstory.

So, my mom's been trying to get me to go to yoga with her the last few weeks and today I finally went. Prior to that, I'd done a little bit with my sister - maybe ten minutes here and there on the Wii - but this was the first time I'd ever attended an hour-long session. Which, ya know, that's fine. I'd been needing an outlet of physical activity anyway and this gave us a chance to bond. My mom had been attending classes held by one of the aides at our family doctor's office. It was a small class of maybe three people, though on other days I'm told there are more. This felt rather intimate and inviting for my first.

Suffice to say, I had my own preconceptions and expectations of yoga going into it.

Prior to leaving the house, I changed out of my Punisher t-shirt into my Journey t-shirt, so as to make a better first impression. Ultimately, that didn't matter. No one really judged us on anything. If anything, the instructor was highly encouraging.

Maybe I just got lucky?

As something of an aside, I have to say, our instructor was really cute, like in the stereotypical way that yoga instructors are. I don't know what it is with yoga instructors and being really attractive, especially in those pants. Again, maybe I just got lucky.

Alas, though, they were already taken. Sad face. 38(

Ok, so you probably don't wanna hear about that stuff. You wanna know what yoga's actually like, right? Alright, so we arrived at the doctor's office, me with my purple yoga mat in tow (because of course you knew it'd be purple). We met the instructor, who was really nice and welcoming (and cute but also taken, like I said). They'd just finished doing a kid's class and we went into the backroom behind a Japanese folding screen to set up. We unfurled out mats and got these long pillow things and some foam blocks and set them up and just laid down in preparation.

It was all very chill and relaxing as you might expect. I felt at peace within moments.

Like many of you, probably, I went in thinking this was gonna be some simple stretching and some breathing exercises, much the way Tai Chi often is. There was certainly lots of that, because I mean, this is yoga after all.

What I didn't expect, however, was how intensely physical a workout it was going to be!

And when I say workout, I mean I was sweating by the end of it, my limbs physically shaking at times because of the intense strain on various muscle groups I'd apparently never realized I even had before then. My core was rather weak, and that was kind of a potch, since a lot of the poses involved heavy abdominal or oblique usage.

If you've ever done planking, it seems like such a simple, straight-forward exercise at first. You just hold yourself up in a push-up position without doing any push-ups. What could be easier than that, right? And yet, after five minutes, your stomach is on fire!

Planking core muscles

The planking was actually among the easier stuff we did.

I should mention that our instructor was really great. They knew a lot, and guided us through every step of the process in great detail. I did my best to follow along and hadn't realized there were so many terms and so many poses, each doing something different. Turns out, they're not just silly stances meant for feel-good stretching and relaxing, each one actually has a specific purpose, much like other forms of exercise do. Some of the poses aren't as intense as doing sets of crunches and squats might be, but instead use what's known as isometric resistance training to work the muscles while in static position.

Our instructor was very lean and tone. No doubt a healthy life-style was part of that, but after taking the class, I can see how yoga alone might have contributed significantly to the physical activity portion.

Even though this was my first serious yoga class, I wasn't completely untrained. I'd done martial arts since I was nine and have more than a passing familiarity with certain aspects of traditional East Asian cultures. I'd also been doing meditation, chi work, psychic healing, and breath control for a number of years. Apparently, that made a difference since our instructor complemented me on how good a job I'd done, even keeping up with the really difficult half-moon poses:

Yoga Half Moon

Sure, it looks easy, but after about the first minute of this pose, you'll be crying.

One thing that probably helped was attuning myself to be present in the moment. As I said, the instructor gave out directions in very specific detail, such as what to do with our toes, pulling our shoulders back, how to grip the floor, or which finger on our hand we ought to be looking at. Since humans can only hold one thing in their minds at any given time, actively honing in on a particular zone of the body helps alleviate some of the pain in other parts. It also makes balancing easier.

All in all, I noticed a lot of similarities between the instructor's guided exercises and the process of hypnotic induction.

For those who may not be familiar with hypnotism, the basic idea is, you are always in a trance state at any given moment in time, filtering out different parts of your general environment in lieu of certain specific things you wish to focus on more narrowly or intently. Induction refers to the formal motions of getting your mind attuned to that state, often by a form of guided awareness of certain parts of the body, much like what we did in yoga class. Once in a deeper trance, you then become receptive to influence, for good or ill.

Obviously, if a hypnotist is ethical, they won't try to get you to do something you wouldn't otherwise want to do anyway. Most of the time, even the unethical ones can't manage such mind-control so long as your subconscious defenses are up. So don't worry too much about that.

Richard Nongard has a really good crash course on the subject if you're interested:

Returning to the topic of yoga, I felt that our instructor's directions were a lot like the induction process, as I said, with them calling out different parts of the body to focus on, where to position them, and how we were supposed to feel about it.

Obviously, I still had me free will intact, meaning I could have refused if I'd wanted; but I was there to do just what they were telling me, so I did.

Near the very end, we entered a post-workout cooldown phase wherein we just lied down in various relaxed poses. These felt really good and I kind of wanted to just stay there and take a nap while curled up in the fetal position, to be honest. While in that phase, the instructor also did a guided meditation session in which - using the exact same techniques of induction - she had us visualize various parts of the energy body open up and channel light and intention or whatever. In our case, they talked about a garden inside us that was meant to symbolize goodness and spiritual growth. A lot of it was left to our own strategic ambiguity to fill in the details to produce the results we wanted to see. We were told to bear in mind the specific purpose of why we were there, to feel thankful for it, to let it radiate through us, and so forth.

I'm not gonna go too much in detail into that, but suffice to say, it was really effective and really interesting learning the mechanics of it.

So yeah, it was a fun experience and I felt great afterwards. I'd definitely recommend it.

It's not just for hipsters and hippies or people who can't do "real" workouts. It's rather serious stuff and there's good fitness science and cognitive science behind it. It's also a very spiritual process that gets you more in-tuned with your own body, particularly the energy body, which most people don't even think of as real, let alone know how to tap into or utilize.

Hope you found this helpful. I can't wait to go back. Namaste. ^_^

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