I Survived My First Yoga Class
That’s right, dear readers, I finally did it – my very first yoga class. For those who know me, this is pretty momentous. As a rule, I don’t exercise in public. As in, with real, live people in the room other than me. After decades of gym trauma, I long ago convinced myself that it was safer to just read a book.
In my mid twenties, my arms and legs started feeling sore after, ahem, boudoir activities. Yoga offered strength training and flexibility that I thought I needed. I wondered, "am I really going to try yoga for better sex? Isn’t that a total cliché?" Well, yes, I am a cliché, and I regret nothing.
In 2012, I popped in a Gaiam DVD in the safe haven of my little living room, and...that’s about it. I've practiced yoga at home ever since. And while I tried out yoga with an agenda in mind, I was surprised to find it benefited my life more broadly. It calmed me down. It gave me perspective. When I was sad or angsty, yoga was there. After a lifetime of avoiding exercises that asked me to be more and do more, yoga seemed okay with me as I was.
And yet, I didn’t dare step into a legit yoga class. Let me be clear that I am a yoga practitioner in the most casual sense. I can’t touch my toes. I can’t do any inversions. When the DVDs get to the Wheel pose, I press fast forward. Sometimes I even pause the video and take a leisurely water break. I routinely lose my balance. And I may have - on very rare occasions, mind you - passed gas.
In a real, live yoga class, everyone can see you doing (or not doing) the poses. There is no fast forwarding. There are no leisurely water breaks. And passing gas in a class is nothing at all akin to a tree falling in a forest – it’s no mystery as to whether anyone hears it.
I confess all of this to you, dear readers, knowing I am white, thin, and young. In the fat-phobic, brown culture-appropriating, profit-driven yoga industry, I’m the market's target But even thin white woman privilege can’t protect me from being deeply intimidated by the impossible standards of beauty and athletic rigor in American yoga culture. That’s how powerful these messages are. That’s how deep this shit goes.
My yoga class avoidance strategies were shaken when Freed launched its new yoga program with an intention of radical inclusion. Discreetly, I began eyeing which class might be the right first step. Hearing about Shervon Laurice’s Equilibrium Yoga - a practice focused on easing anxiety and the blues - felt fortuitous.
So I signed up. I panicked. I went anyway. And you know what? I found out why everyone is so into sharing the room with a living, breathing teacher. Here’s why:
I’d always thought the biggest upside to my home DVDs was that no one could see what I was doing, but I understand now that it’s actually a major downside – if no one can see me, no one can tell me if I’m doing the poses wrong. After asking for my consent before offering hands-on adjustments, Shervon gently helped me widen my arm span in Downward Dog and showed me that I was overarching my back in forward bends. Now I’m even further from touching my toes, but my spine thanks me!
Deeper sense of presence
I felt super focused and present in Shervon’s class. I didn’t know what the next pose was or how long we’d hold each one, so I had to listen closely to Shervon’s instructions. Also, in Equlibrium Yoga, Shervon asks for less, not more. We held fewer poses for longer periods of time, and even though I’ve done hundreds of Warrior Twos, I don’t think I’ve ever felt them quite so fully.
A real chance for growth
I maxed out any new information I could glean from my DVDs during Obama’s first term. Shervon coaxed me out of a stunted yoga space with new breathing techniques, different poses, and distinctive sequences. Because we held poses longer than I’m used to, sometimes my thighs doubted they'd ever done the pose before. I also learned a new way to release lower back tension: while lying flat on your stomach, you swish your heels back and forth “like windshield wipers,” Shervon says. Miraculous!
It wasn’t awkward that I had to use a strap, block, or blanket to do some of the poses because Shervon had already placed them out for me before I arrived, and she even used them, too. There was nothing I needed to fast-forward through, but Shervon’s therapeutic presence and soothing, “just grab a tissue and tell me all about your childhood” voice made it seem like anything was possible. And you know what? I did not fall or pass gas, but I have a feeling it would have been totally okay if I did, following an appropriate period of mortification.
When the class ended, I felt as though I fully filled out my body. And I felt exhilarated and strangely proud, and also grateful that such a small thing can still feel so momentous. I might, just might, even go back.