Originally published by our elephriends over at Recovering Yogi on November 14, 2011.
When less is more.
By Beka Olson
I took my first yoga class in an empty, carpeted office during my lunch break one September on a hand-me-down mat. Me, a lazy 21-year-old accounting assistant, and my mostly-over-40 office mates. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know if I had heard the word “yoga” outside of culty looking groups where people didn’t cut/wash/comb their hair, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. But, I knew my co-workers bathed regularly, and thus I was convinced to come along.
The class itself seemed to go along smoothly enough, a couple of low and high lunges, Warrior B, maybe a sun salutation, LOTS of child’s pose, and seated stretching. I felt appropriately challenged, not at all terrified. and actually did have moments of clarity. I think. Much to my surprise, my entire body ached the next day. There were muscles screaming at me I didn’t even know existed. Those classes over the next eight months were almost surreal compared to classes I attend now. It was so safe. None of us took ourselves or the poses we were doing seriously; mostly it was a way to step out of reality for an hour and make our bodies feel a little better. I didn’t know or care if I was “good” at yoga. I just knew that I was physically in better shape than I had been in four years, and for sixty minutes once a week I stopped thinking.
It took three months for me to venture out my safe space and try yoga class at a studio.
Hello, twilight zone! I can barely remember anything we did. I was too busy trying to figure out what the hell was going on and when I was supposed to breathe and where I was supposed to put my foot and how to stay inside my mat. All the confusion proved beneficial because it didn’t give me any time to think about how ridiculous I must have looked.
One particular pose stood out to me very clearly, because for several seconds I thought the teacher was speaking in tongues and that surely she hadn’t just told everyone to come into something called crow pose where all of our weight (uh oh) is precariously placed upon our arms (double uh oh) and our toes come off the floor. Riiiiiiiiiight. I thought, what the what? I’ll give a try. I rested my forehead on the wall in front of me — thinking this was surely going to help — put a smile on my face, shifted my knees on to my arms, and lifted my feet off of the floor. Well that was my intention; what actually happened was more like falling face first into a brick wall and sliding down slo-mo style.
Oh well. So my first yoga studio class wasn’t a home run, but I was still lucky enough that I didn’t care what my poses looked like. I didn’t return to studio classes for nearly a year. My man and I moved out to San Francisco, otherwise known as the yoga mecca in the West. This meant no more safe office yoga, so off I went to a studio in my neighborhood. To this day, the time I spent going to class at that studio were the best classes I have ever taken. The teachers and students pushed my practice to a new level. And not the way I push myself now. I still wasn’t interested in trying crow and was able to laugh off suggestions to try Cirque du Soleil type poses. Two or three classes per week, and I knew I found the place I wanted to spend the majority of my time. What I was doing felt more like a practice. I would show up to each class with zero expectations and do the best that I could. Sometimes I miss those days. The most complicated or advanced pose I attempted was my brick-face crow. But I never felt better.
As life would have it, my man and I moved back to Chicago, and I decided to attend a teacher training. Something happened inside of me during those intensive two months. While they were certainly some of the best moments of my life, my perspective shifted. My practice got a little lost, and I found myself striving less for the moments of non-thinking and more for the I-will-get-one-legged-crow-I-will-get-one-legged-crow. And also the dreaded, strictly forbidden but ever ubiquitous “Is my handstand better than hers?” Oye.
Later, after two teacher trainings and thousands of classes, I had moments where I didn’t recognize my original yogi self.
Why did I feel competitive? Who cared if I could seamlessly move from tripod headstand into ashtavakrasana? Probably only me. I continued on this yoga path for two years before I was able to break free. Well, more like forced to break free. I got pregnant. I no longer had the option to try harder and harder poses and didn’t have to worry how my poses looked compared to others. Frankly, I stopped caring. It sucks a little that it took a pregnancy for me to chill the fuck out but hey, whatever works.
I’m happy to be back to my practices of some low and high lunges, downward dogs, Warrior B, maybe some sun salutations, LOTS of child’s pose, and some seated stretching. I’m sure once this bun gets out of the oven I’ll revert back to my evil ways of competing with myself, but for now I’ll relish the good old days of safe yoga.
About Beka Olson
Beka lives in Chicago with her husband and their delightfully incorrigible boxer Nash. She teaches yoga at the little studio she opened in her neighborhood. Technically, she’s not a writer, but no one has told her that yet. A native Texan, Beka often fantasizes about a yoga fusion class that blends yoga, margaritas and queso, most likely to be named “Queflow.” When she’s not teaching, practicing or growing a baby you can find her reading, listening to music, cooking/eating, and trying to memorize every episode of Law and Order.