A Thank You Letter to My Yoga Instructor

Thank Miss Yoga Teacher Lady.

You were 100% successful in kicking my ass yesterday. I’m sore in ways I’ve never been sore from yoga before. Usually just a small group of muscles are sore, but you managed to make my entire body sore, so kudos to you.

For those of you wondering what type of yoga I was doing, it was Ashtanga, which is Sanskrit for “This is gonna hurt.”

Sincerely,

Q.


Ok, so maybe I can give y’all the rest of the story now.

Like the above letter says, I went to yoga yesterday, and it worked me over. I’ve never been this sore from yoga. I can’t say this enough. I’ve been doing yoga for close to 7 years now. I’ve had some good sessions, and nothing was like this. I feel more like I just hopped back into the weight for the first time in months.

The prelude to this is I go to a small yoga studio because I haven’t been a consistent member of a full gym, so I never got into the routine of a gym’s yoga classes. The small studio is nice because you get to know your instructors and there’s a niceness to going somewhere that is dedicated to one thing.

But there are a couple of downsides. The most visible is cost. If you frequent the studio often, it adds up to as much if not more than a gym membership without access to weights, cardio, etc.

The less visible downside is that the classes change every semester (I’m in a college town, which is convenient because I’m a college faculty member). Instructors change (because some of them are students and graduate), and the classes change when they’re taught (or if they’re even taught).

We’re starting a new year and a new schedule. My favorite instructor left. She was my Goldilocks instructor (Goldilocks as in a perfect fit as explained in this post, not Goldilocks as in appearance, though that actually fits in hindsight). She could challenge me but she also moved at a slow, deliberate pace. Her classes are the closest approximation I’ve ever taken to meeting how I’d go about my practice on my own. There’s another instructor who does a good job of keeping things mellow but still worthwhile, but all the other classes I’ve taken tend to be very fast-paced or restorative (and restorative by itself can go to hell). There have been other teachers I liked well enough, but the style didn’t quite mesh up with my preferences (and one of them was a bit too hands-on in making adjustments. They weren’t coming on to me; I just wasn’t expecting someone to be forcefully pushing me without warning in downward-facing dog).

Above is what happened.

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But this is kind of what it felt like at the time. It was the first time I’d had a yoga teacher adjust me (my favorite never did outside of the Shavasana, hence favorite status). I live in a special type of bubble where people generally know not to touch me.

You can think of me like the vampires in Twilight: No one quite knows why, but they’re subconsciously aware they shouldn’t touch me. Except I don’t sparkle in the sunlight.

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I’ve gotten better about dealing with adjustments in class, so I don’t ask to avoid them because I realize that’s more of a me issue than a them issue. And sometimes they’re actually helpful cues, as I learned in physical therapy.

Long story short, I have something very specific I look for in my yoga classes. But I might not be able to get away with that much longer.

In looking at the studio’s new schedule, the class I like was gone. There’s something that looks like it could be a similar thing that I’ll try, but it’s only once a week, and I’d like to go two or three times every week.

So I have to branch out. There are a couple of basics classes, and those are ok. They go my speed more typically, but they also tend to not be very challenging because they’re trying to trick people into the yoga cult (Tries basic class: “Oh yeah, this isn’t so bad.” Tries advanced class: “You want me to put my head where? Is that even legal in this state?”). Still good for building a good base and working on form.

Then there are a couple of heated classes available. I sweat enough on my own.

I don’t need a class to be deliberately heated (the Saturday class had heaters, but they seemed to be more for just keeping the room comfortable than making me die). The only time I’ve taken child’s pose in a session was a heated class. I wasn’t in as good a shape then, but I’m still a bit traumatized. But I’ll probably give them a try at some point. Both teachers on them are ones I’ve taken before and been comfortable enough with.

And then there was the Saturday Ashtanga class.

I’ve never done Ashtanga before. I read up on it. Basically, it’s a set practice that’s like a regular Vinyasa class, except no deviations between sessions. I thought “I’ve done Vinyasa a good amount. This shouldn’t be so bad.”

It was with a teacher I hadn’t taken before (and had never even run into between classes, which is atypical). I decided to give it a try. There was a red flag, though. The class was set for 90 minutes. I’m used to 60-75. 90 Seemed like a bit much.

And oh it was.

I ran the day before after not running for a month. I hadn’t done yoga in 6-8 weeks. This was a recipe for disaster.

The class was brutal.

I had no idea what to expect, so when we kept going through planks, Chaturangas, upward dogs, and downward dogs, I was about shot.

Then we threw chair poses into the group, and I was about to die. Then we started doing the lunged poses, like the warriors, triangles, etc. Then we were balancing. And finally we were on the floor.

At this point, I’d have been good to just roll over and die.

When class is kicking my ass, I’m happy to see the floor because I know we’re not getting back up and we’re almost done. Of course, some flexibility and injury issues keep me from being a full participant, but I don’t care. I’m done. I’m so effing done once we’re here.

I started to feel nauseous in the middle of class. I considered taking child’s pose more than once. I considering running outside and never coming back.

It was a brutal class. And then I did a couple of stupid things.

The thing is I’m not very flexible, and as a dude, there are poses that come more easily to the rest of the class than me. There are some bends and stretches that my natural muscle structure keeps me from doing easily.

And this class kicked my ass on poses where I’m on equalish footing.

But there are a couple of things I can do that aren’t in all yogis’ wheelhouses: the crow (and sidecrow on a good day, though I’ve only been in one class where that was even mentioned) and the wheel (which is nice to have in a wheelhouse for consistency purposes).

The reason I can do these poses is the book I started doing yoga on and used for 5 years before attending any classes. They were in the sequences, and I could do them (reasonably well; I know my form isn’t quite where it ought to be, but that’s not the point as we’re about to learn). It never occurred to me that regular yogis couldn’t do these easily. They pushed me, but I could do them without much trouble when I was regularly practicing.

Here’s where the trouble starts.

I know I can do them. I also know I can’t do a lot of the “easier” things in a yoga class. And I’m competitive and don’t like that those easier things are out of my grasp.

When I’m in a class where they finally bring up one of these poses, I’m freakin’ going for it.

In yesterday’s class, we got to crow, and I knew I was going for it even if my body was already dead tired. The teacher prefaces it with the qualifying statements of “if you can, if not do this” or “work toward this.” At this point, she’s had to check in on me a couple of times ’cause I was dying. So then I go into a pose that some folks consider difficult, and I think I threw her off on that.

Later, we go to bridges and wheels. Bridges are common and they’re done almost every class it seems. Wheels aren’t done in the classes I usually take. My first yoga injury in a class was a wheel though. My very first class was kicking my ass, and we got to wheels. I knew I could even if I shouldn’t, so I did. And then a muscle clenched in my back. Took a few days for that to go away. And you’d think I’d learn my lesson to not do wheels when I’m exhausted already.

Nope.

I went for the wheel. I did actually go about it slowly. And again, I threw of the teacher. And then she told me to push my chest out more, and I about died. I might have surprised her, but when she corrected my form, she won.

And really, for the session, she really did win. That class was all sorts of brutal. I was sweating, panting, stretched, and pushed. I came out a sort of tired that I’m not used to from yoga (and honestly, that I don’t always want). But she did a great job of managing the class and dealing with me.

After the class, I talked to the teacher just to let her know why I didn’t do a couple of things (one for pressure on a spot on my spine that doesn’t do well with direct contact I’ve learned), and she basically said it was the hardest class they teach. Mission accomplished.

It seems yogis and runners have a lot in common. They push themselves throughout the week, and then reach Saturday with the intention of putting themselves through complete hell just because they have a bit of extra time.

But I did find a teacher I can work with, even if it took a brutal class. I can’t state the importance of having a teacher you’re comfortable with. They control the tempo of class. They adjust you (re: stranger touching me when I’m in compromising positions). And they can provide guidance and encouragement.

This teacher did that in spades. Honestly, she seemed like she might have been a bit nervous as class was going, but she did a good job of interacting as she was adjusting. She moved through the whole room pretty well giving a little feedback to folks. And she gave good advice on posture for poses.

She also threaded the needle of giving me attention without making me feel like an outsider.

I need to tell a story to fully explain this idea. I used to go to a Japanese restaurant (stopped because I moved, not because of an issue with restaurant). It was often enough the owner/manager/whatever would recognize me for a little while. They only gave out chopsticks to eat with. No worries. I wasn’t an ace, but I could get by. In my 5th year of going to the place, I’m in the middle of eating and a waiter randomly puts a fork by my plate and walks off with no explanation. I felt like I’d been called out. And I’ll be damned if I was going to use that fork. I left it where they did, and I recommenced eating my food with my chopsticks.

In a yoga studio, it’s easy to make someone feel out of place. Just do something condescending. That’s all it takes. I had one teacher tell another staffer that I’d need a yoga mat once as I was signing in. I was holding my mat. I’d had the teacher once before, and I had my mat then too. But it felt like a holier than thou thing. I wasn’t amused. I also never took a class with them again (I also didn’t like their classes, so it was more than a personality difference).

With yesterday’s class, I was dying. It was visible. And the teacher had to check in a couple of times. It’s not difficult to make a person in a class of about 20-25 people feel bad for having that type of check-in happen. But I was able to say I was fine (sort of), and she didn’t loiter or make me feel bad. When I hit the crow and wheel, she was positive and gave praise (to me, not announcing to the whole group, which is evidently a no-no), and followed that up with tips on how I could make the poses go better. Basically, it would have been very easy for her to deliberately or inadvertently make me feel bad, but she didn’t.

This isn’t always the case. So yeah, I may go back if I’m feeling brave (or if the soreness ever goes away).

If nothing else, I felt great eating a double cheeseburger after class.

-Q

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