One of my goals when we left San Francisco for our epic adventure was to commit myself to a regular yoga practice. I’d taken a few classes before and fell in love with it, but never managed to build it into my life. Since relocating to Chicago, I’ve had the time and inclination to dedicate myself to ‘the mat’. Plus, it’s been part of my strategy to make new connections in this city. So far, it’s paying off.
From my cubicle in my old job in Oakland, I had envisioned waking up without an alarm every morning about 9-ish. I’d throw on the appropriate gear, grab my mat, and head to the small semi-outdoor yoga studio run by a formerly American teacher who studied under some notably famous yoga guru in Rishikesh. The sun would be shining, the day would be heating up and the white curtains would flutter in the warm Andaman Sea breeze.
There’d be other nomads there, just like myself, all starting their morning with an invigorating class and setting their intentions for the day. I dreamed of downward facing dogs in sight of white beaches, forests of deep green and calm turquoise waters that make you feel — somehow — the whole scene has been photoshopped.
That’s not quite how it all worked out for us, but the core of the dream was/is still there: to build myself a regular yoga practice. And in Chicago, there’s no shortage of yoga studios. There’s a yoga studio that only teaches Ashtanga, another only Vinyasa. One merges yoga and tai chi, another roasts you for 90 minutes at 105F (a little over 40C), and another whose classes prefer to use weights and only last 45 minutes.
I did my research, and I settled on the one I thought would suit my requirements: a studio that welcomed encourages and challenged me but was not intimidating. A space where I felt comfortable. So although my yoga studio is a far cry from the islands of southern Thailand, I have found an oasis in the heart of Chicago. And, just as I predicted, it has revolutionised my world.
Most days of the week, I slide on my workout gear and walk the ten minutes to the yoga studio. I take deep breaths along the way, clearing my mind of the usual clutter (lists that usually contain milk, bread, cheese, and olives) and general noise (did I remember to lock the door?). I do this to prepare myself for the class, to preemptively focus my attention on slowing down and opening myself up to the practice. There’s often only three or four others in my classes, so we get personalised attention.
The language of yoga
As with most things, there’s language specific to the practice of yoga. In class, there’s plenty of Sanskrit words tossed around — Uttanasana, Savanana, Chaturanga — as well as English phrases for the moves — like tree, cobra, downward facing dog. There’s also plenty of pointers to remember when you set up for certain moves. My hips love to move forward and in opposition to each other, my right knee naturally turns in and my lumbar screams at me when I do cobra or upward facing dog. Then there’s the instructions — open your chest, drop your sit bones down, reach your sternum away from your navel. All of these take a while to absorb and understand what they mean, physically. But I am being patient, and I can already see a vast improvement.
What I get out of the yoga experience
It’s a practice that helps both the body and the mind. I’m stronger, more flexible, and more mentally checked-in to life. I ease my body into new moves, and listen to what it has to say. I’m more conscious of elemental things, like controlling my breath and feeling the beads of sweat make their make their way down my frame.
But the best part for me is something deeper than feeling stronger or being more flexible: I leave class convinced of my infinite potential.
There’s something interesting about embracing opposites, dualities that arise on the mat and I feel that helps me in being more open and accepting of things in life outside of the studio. Becoming a yogini has made me much, much kinder to myself. And this, in turn, makes me kinder to others. It’s a welcome change.
Always listen to your body. It whispers, it never shouts.
Only in whispering does the body give you messages. If you are alert, you will be able to understand it. And the body has a wisdom of its own, which is very much deeper than the mind. The mind is just immature. The body has remained without the mind for millenia. The mind is a late arrival. It does not know much yet. All of the basic things the body still keeps in its control. Only useless things have been given to the mind — to think about philosophy, and God, and hell and politics.
So listen to your body and never compare yourself to anyone else. never before has there been a person like you, and never will there be. You are absolutely unique — in the past, present and future. So you cannot compare notes with anybody, and you cannot imitate anybody. ‘
Do you do yoga?
Or have a new hobby that you’re excited about?
I’d love to hear about it!