Alison was a dancer growing up, and then became a runner. She loved a good heart-pumping workout -- but when running constricted her body, she decided to give yoga a try. Here's how she learned to love yoga:
Growing up a dancer, I valued hard, sweat-inducing movements and exercise. I believed that the higher your heart rate, the better your workout -- I like to get my butt kicked. I like to sweat.
I’d always dismissed yoga as a "non-legit" exercise. I tried a class once in college, but felt weird being barefoot and I laughed when the instructor guided us into a Warrior 1 pose. The names of the poses were just funny to me. I left class thinking, "I'll never do that again.”
Five years later, I’d stopped dancing entirely and had picked up running. I had a four-mile race and three half-marathons under my belt, and was looking to complete a full marathon.
But I was running so much that my body slowly started begging for mercy. My hips felt tight all the time, my shoulders were permanently tense, and my legs desperately needed to be stretched. Also, my knees started creaking like an old lady's. It was clear I needed to take better care of my body.
I started re-considering yoga, and did some online research to see what was out there. I learned there were many types, including Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Bikram, and tons more. Given my fondness for sweat-dripping workouts, my first inclination was to go straight for what I deemed to be the hardcore one (though, I would later learn, they're all pretty impressive): Hot Power Yoga.
I settled on Pure Yoga on the Upper East Side for the first class. I was extremely nervous, not only because this would this be my first real yoga class (that college one hardly counts), but because it would be held entirely in a 105-degree climate. I didn't know if I would love the temperature or if it would make me want to pass out.
Once I got there, it was obvious there were some seriously hardcore yoga practitioners. I was self-conscious, but rather than letting myself feel intimidated, I chose to position myself close to those people so that I could observe and learn from them. When the instructor called out the names of poses, I barely knew any of them (except Child's Pose, my favorite). But I watched the others and was able to figure out what I should be doing. And because I’d told the instructor it was my first class, he was able to guide and adjust me.
I successfully made my way through the poses with just a few wobbles here and there (I even attempted crow pose!). Sweat oozed out of every pore of my body, and I loved it. When I left Pure — after stopping at the front desk to sign up for a second class — my body felt limber and my head felt clear. This was the balance my body needed, and the feeling was unlike any runner’s high I’ve experienced.
I was shocked, too, by how difficult yoga is. My preconceived notions about people just laying there and chanting “om” were totally debunked. Sure, you get to lay in savasana at the end of class (my favorite part) – but you're working hard the rest of the time, twisting your body into poses that open your hips, expand your chest and really get you feeling bendy.
I now practice power yoga at my gym every week (in power yoga, you flow through a bunch of poses at a fairly rapid pace). Even after attending classes regularly, my thighs still burn every time I settle into Chair pose, and Chaturanga always gets my triceps fired up.
I'll admit that I may have had an easier time getting into yoga because I'm a former dancer. I'm used to doing a decent amount of stretching, though yoga poses are very different than forcing yourself into a split a few minutes before going onstage (never a good idea). But I’ve learned from seeing all the class levels out there that you don't have to be in any particular physical condition to try yoga. I encourage newcomers to start with a beginner class, figure out which style they like and explore. Be open-minded, tell the instructor it's your first time, and don't get frustrated if you wobble in the poses—everyone wobbles!
The best thing I’ve gotten out of yoga is to embrace a challenge and step out of the comfort zone. I always try every pose in class, and when the instructor offers a variation to make the pose more difficult, I try it — even if it's a totally crazy hand balance. The worst thing that will happen is that I'll fall on my butt — and I do fall, quite often (falling can be fun!).
I still don't like to say "om." I don't like chanting. And I didn't like the one time my yoga teacher told us to pretend we were in a field surrounded by fairies. That was weird. But I love getting a deep stretch. I love that I can enter the yoga studio at the end of a long workday and feel a sense of calm.
Oh, and since I started doing yoga, my running has improved dramatically. I'm hoping to set a personal record at my next half-marathon. You can bet I'll get my butt back into the yoga studio right after that happens.
Alison is a NYC resident, running addict and self-proclaimed gym rat. She has completed three half-marathons and will run her fourth next weekend in Washington, D.C. She is hoping to run her first full marathon this fall with the help of a regular yoga practice to keep her bendy. Read more about Alison's training, her reviews of local fitness classes and her daily attempts at finding balance in this hectic city at her blog, Ali On The Run.