What I did: practice yoga, either in a classroom setting or on my own, for 30 days straight. Every day. No excuses.
Why I did it: I wasn’t feeling good at all. I had lost weight for my recent wedding in April, but it wasn’t enough. And, while I was paying more attention to my diet, and definitely seeing results, they weren’t happening fast enough. I was heading toward Burning Man within a month, where my tendency is to wear fewer clothes, and I didn’t actually feel Burner ready. Plus, I had taken up smoking again after having quit for nearly 25 years, and have plans to quit, but not…just…yet. And I knew myself well enough to know that going to a normal gym to do cardio and weights while smoking seemed not only contraindicated, but downright perverse, and that my brain would use this to rationalize not doing the former in order to continue doing the latter. I needed something low-impact, not all that aerobically challenging, and, most of all, convenient. Which leads me to…
How I did it: except for three days when my schedule compelled me to practice on my own, I practiced exclusively at Yoga District, a block away from me in my Bloomingdale neighborhood, with one lunchtime class at their studio on I Street NW. Meaning that most weekday mornings I was up at 6 am and at the studio by 6:30.
What I learned:
1. Yoga is hard. Friggin’ hard. Like, trying-to-comprehend-whatever-the-fuck-Stephen-A.-Smith-is-saying hard. Think not? Here’s a pose I did just about every day: Move your feet out to the edges of your mat and bend your knees, coming into a squat. The toes may turn out if necessary. Now, hold that pose for about 30 seconds. Cool? Now, when you’re done scraping what’s left of your exploded quads off the matt, repeat that pose about five more times in between doing what’s known as a “chatarunga,” a pose obviously invented by some mad scientist of a yogi who essentially said to himself “how about if I combine a push-up, a plank, a deep back-bend, a standing shoulder press and a hamstring and calf-stretch all INTO ONE WACK-ASS MOVEMENT and make these losers do it over and friggin’ over? BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!” Yeah, I thought so.
2. Smoking and Yoga don’t mix. I turned to yoga primarily because of its distinct lack, so I thought, of an aerobic component. I sensed that my smoking wouldn’t be that much a problem, and I was right, somewhat. But, in order to really do yoga well, you have to be able to “find space” in your poses to breathe. Why do you have to “find space?” Because in some poses you’ve contorted your entire thoracic cavity into a slinky and if your lung capacity is already challenged, you’re screwed. If I’m going to continue doing yoga, and get better at it, I gotta kick the habit. I know this. Maintaining a yoga and a smoking habit simultaneously is untenable.
3. Yoga’s metaphorical appeal (at least for me). Yoga definitely appeals to my tendency to look for what Northrop Frye called the “mythos of everyday existence,” and I couldn’t help but notice that the poses and rituals of yoga acted as a microcosm of life: you start out in child’s pose, grow into strength poses, find your way as best you can through balance poses, and then stretch yourself as you move toward the end, corpse pose. Birth, Life, Death, all in one hour, followed by, of course, resurrection: you rise and say an “om” to once again reacquaint yourself with the vibrations of life.
4. Weight loss: Yep, it happened. I noticed it. Others did, too, which is how you know you’ve lost weight, I guess. Keep in mind that I combined my yoga efforts with an eye toward monitoring and managing my caloric intake, so this one-two punch was effective and beneficial in this realm, at least for me. Again, your mileage may vary.
5. You gotta show up – and you have to be there. Here’s how yoga specifically appeals to me: You must be “present.” And not just show up for classes and lie (or not) on your mat: yoga is the only physical activity I’ve discovered so far that, for me personally, doesn’t allow my thoughts or concentration to be anywhere else. Put me on a treadmill or stationary bike or a running path and my mind wanders back to my problems, fantasizes about things I should have said, conversations or interactions I’m hoping for or avoiding. Your experience may be different, of course. But, like improv comedy, yoga compels me to concentrate and focus on the pose I’m trying to hit: where are my arms? Is my knee over my foot in Warrior pose? Are my hips square to the wall? Yoga makes you concentrate on so many little details simultaneously that you have little time, if not at all, to churn over the uncomfortable interaction you had with your co-worker or what you’re going to do/eat after class. And seriously: where the fuck are my arms?
Conclusions: More yoga. No smoking. Maybe some running. Presence. Be here. Be now.