Disclaimer: the intended audience for this article are those unfamiliar with yoga and curious to learn what a first-time experience might feel like.
I like to learn something new each summer. Last summer I took up sketching so that I could say I’m an artist when I go on dates. The summer before that, in 2015, I decided to take up yoga. Now I know “yoga” can mean many different things, but for the sake of simplicity just accept that I practiced a form of yoga known as “vinyasa.” This generally means flowing through different positions, as opposed to long static holds of various poses. Vinyasa can be broken down into many different types as well but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
So what’s it like? The first yoga class.
Well, let me backtrack. I first decided that I would dedicate part of my 2015 summer to yoga when I was at my parents’ for the weekend in early May. I was watching a squirrel in my backyard. I realized that throughout my life, I had probably seen thousands of squirrels, but I never stopped to consider them beyond my most basic, fleeting thoughts. I noticed the grace and agility with which the squirrel moved, dashing around the yard with quick bursts at seemingly impossible angles. I thought to myself…I need to achieve the human version of such grace. Yoga might be the answer.
Just kidding. None of that happened. That would be really weird, and if you were my friend, I hope you would be concerned. I actually don’t remember why I took up yoga in the first place. I just kinda did.
Oh, right – so the first class.
I arrive early. I head up the stairs, unable at this point to ignore my nervous energy. I find a spacious studio with a windowed wall to the front and candles lit along the two sides. Peaceful. Serene.
I find a spot sort of in the middle, but a little off to the left side and lay down my mat. Well, technically my mom’s mat, but it had this super cool tree on it so I asked to borrow it hoping someone in the class would compliment me on it (no one did).
Now we haven’t started, but as a newcomer I begin to notice some differences among the class. Some people get there and chat with a friend. Others do some light stretching. Then, there’s one girl about five feet from me just upside down balancing on her head. I try and act natural, but I decide to take a quick glance at her. Shit. We made eye contact. Ok, just continue to act unimpressed (why? I don’t know – but as a newcomer I felt strongly that I shouldn’t appear awestruck before the class even started).
The instructor walks to the front and gets us ready. She has a calming tone to her voice and I believe her when she tells me I can be whoever I want to be in here…that I’m, “safe from judgment.” We start off in child’s pose. Easy enough. But we slowly build from there, and with each passing moment I become more aware of my body, energy, and breath.
When you take a yoga class you discover the beauty that is in your breath. You have a power and control over it that simply needs to be awakened. The instructor tells us to breathe deeply, hold…and then exhale our stress away.
… Wait. What was that? Is there a horse in here? Did someone just exhale by neighing like a horse? Did the instructor just encourage that behavior and say to breathe freely, however feels right? Neighing like a horse is breathing freely? That feels right? Humans are like horses?
There it is again! Who did that? Someone in the back? Should I be neighing like a horse? Should I neigh like an aggressive or a shy horse?
These are the thoughts that race through my mind. My mental clarity is gone, replaced by disturbing images of horse-headed humans. Fight it! Ok…ok…breathe (like a human). Alright, I’m over it. And the timing is perfect because we begin to ramp up the intensity. We quickly transition into and out of downward dog and many other challenging poses. My legs begin to shake in chair pose and I am quickly humbled as I realize the limitations to my strength.
I also realize that I forgot to bring a towel. And this is a huge problem because the room is warm and I’m sweating a great deal. I go into downward dog and I see a bead of sweat drip off my face and onto the mat, joining countless other beads. I step forward into warrior 1.
My mat makes a fart noise.
Yes, my mat. Not me, I promise. Now I’m not only struggling to hold these challenging poses, but I’m also fighting a creeping approach of self-consciousness that grows stronger every time I reposition my feet. I look to the person next to me and try to say, just with my eyes alone, “hey that’s actually my mat that’s making the fart noises because I didn’t bring a towel and it’s really hot in here so I’m sweating a lot on my mat and when I step into a concentrated area of sweat it makes that funky noise. Funny right?”
I don’t think she understood.
I’m simply forced to step more carefully and softly into each pose. And when you already suck at yoga, this sort of thing can really amplify any difficulties you’re facing. If you’re holding your breath at this point, nervous that I might not make it through the rest of the class, don’t worry… I do.
The lights dim and the instructor’s voice somehow becomes more soothing. I lie down on my back, let down my emotional defenses, and reconnect with my breath (deciding that I’ll neigh like a horse at a later date, after some more practice). It’s a simple and beautiful end to the class. My muscles were challenged and I constantly explored areas outside my comfort zone throughout the hour, yet it feels so easy to relax. This is magic.
Eventually, however, it ends. We roll up our mats, grab our belongings, and slowly the class begins to make an exit. This is Yoga to the People, which means we pay at the end with a suggested donation of $10. Someone in front of me wearing Lululemon decides that it’s okay to only donate $1. She must’ve been a track athlete during her undergraduate days, since she keeps her chin tucked and bolts out the door – perfect technique. I give the suggested donation, because one of my favorite things to do is to blindly follow instructions.
I walk outside to the same day I had left upon entering the studio. But it feels new to me, somehow.
– Sandeep Dhaliwal, Yogi