One funky octopus

Downtown Yoga in Hartford, CT. Namaste, y’all.

Good Lord… the BURN.  I couldn’t believe the fiery sensation starting in my shoulders and flowing into my upper arms. Despite my best efforts and intentions to fight it, I had to drop to my knees, try not to audibly curse my instructor as being a closet sadist and somehow “find my breath”.

Yup – I was in the throes of learning that yoga was laying a first-rate beat down on my seriously inflexible self.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and take it back to the beginning of the journey.

The Start

I like to be a bit transparent on this blog, at least the best I can.  I had been mulling over doing yoga for some time based on two critical facts: (1) I am about as pliable as structural steel; and (2) I tend to hold onto stress way more than I should.  I’m no yoga expert, but those have always appeared to be the big value propositions for yoga practice.  On a side note, you know you’ve been working in Corporate America way too long when you write about “value propositions” for something like yoga… the least corporate thing you could possibly imagine.  See?  I need yoga even more than I admit.

The flexibility piece only became more important to me as I’ve gotten closer to, and now, just north of 40 years old.  And honestly?  I think it has less to do with age and more to do with my daily work state (seated at a desk and working on a computer) combined my chosen exercise style (lots of weight training).

The stress piece has always been a lingering thing.  It’s one of those things where it’s easy to become so accustomed to it, you forget what it feels like to be perfectly mellow and content (save for vacation and sitting on a beach with nothing in particular to do).  But despite my growing generally accustomed to high stress levels, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to just let that be.  It was time to get some change, pronto.

Into The Fray

I’ve tried yoga before, most notably bikram yoga.  If you’ve not familiar with bikram, it’s a 90 minute program comprised of 26 postures… done in a sweltering hot room and designed with the sole purpose of making you hate life and question your ability to make intelligent decisions on what is “good for you”.  I walked out of classes a few times feeling like I had been beaten with a blunt object and my eyes completely bloodshot from the heat.  So if you want a yoga style that makes you look akin to a meth head, then hey, this is totally for you.  (Obviously, your results may vary and a few of my friends really like bikram… but they cray-cray).

In looking for something that would balance out the full-tilt style of my lifting and conditioning program, I came across Downtown Yoga in Hartford (you can find them on the Web here and on Facebook here).  What was so appealing about them was their accessibility and the fact that every class could be scaled to your individual abilities.  Plus, their interest in being connected to the community also interested me – as easy as it is for locals to rip on Hartford relentlessly, I’ve always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it having grown up around here.  That and the fact that I have zero patience for people who bitch, whine and moan without even making a modicum of effort to see what the city may have to offer.  (Here’s a hint: More than you would think)

Plus, I liked their snappy promo video:

Downtown Yoga – Happy, Healthy, Hartford. from Downtown Yoga on Vimeo.

So down I went to Downtown Yoga about a month ago and gave it a whirl for their “Un-rush Hour” class.

My first class was with Mike and I had little idea what to expect.  I was the first person to the class and my goals were simple: try to relax and pick a spot at the back of the room so my lack of yoga-tastic skills would not be on display.  I set up up where I thought would be a good spot in the back corner.  Turns out I had no idea how the room was used… annnnd I was in the front row.  Sweet mother of God.

Needless to say, based on this blog post, I survived.  Heck, I even went back and have been on a two-times per week roll.  So why would a meathead like me get so hooked on yoga?  Lots of good reasons.

Performance.  Since I’ve started yoga, I’m already starting to move a little better and feel a little better.  My insanely tight hips are now just super tight.  That’s a big win.  I look forward to them now improving to wicked tight, then pretty tight and then to kind of tight.  One day?  I dream of decent and in my wildest dreams, I hope for them to be loose and fluid.  But for now?  Small steps.  Also, I am finding my shoulders are feeling more stable and solid.  I may have all that downward dog to thank for that… which is probably the only time you will hear me give any kind of positive remarks on that posture which provided the delightful burning sensations described at the outset of this blog.Plus, when I do things like squats, I am more comfortably able to get lower.  That’s huuuuge.

Yoga studio

It’s… about… to go… down.

Challenge Without Competition.  I’m naturally competitive.  If you have ever seen my Foursquare check-ins for yoga, they tend to be things like “I’m totally going to win at yoga tonight.”  Obviously, there really isn’t any “winning” at yoga (although yoga competitions do exist) and I’ve actually enjoyed that.  I’m a little surprised with how much I’m not comparing how I’m doing against my classmates.  Oh sure, I do check a bit out of curiosity – no one is perfect on this.  However, I don’t do it that much because I’m more concerned with I am doing personally and… well… I’m probably battling hard on whatever posture I am attempting and don’t have the inclination to see what everyone else is up to.So, you’re profoundly challenged, but it really doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.  There are no points in yoga.  No score.  No playoffs.  Just you, your instructor’s direction and your breath.  Simple.

Dat Good Feeling Doe.  Every time I’m done with a yoga class, I feel good.  No, I feel really good.  Without question, the physical movements, concentrated breath-work and stretching of the yoga itself gets the bulk of the credit for it.  However, there were at least 2 truly unexpected factors for this feel-good buzz as well.  The first is that yoga gets you so involved in what you’re doing for the entire time you are practicing, you don’t tend to think of much else.  Honestly, how nice is it to shut your brain off for 90 minutes from the 1,001 things you usually have bombarding it?  It’s glorious.The second piece was even less expected – how the instructors close the class.

Let’s take Jenny (the delightful head instructor at Downtown Yoga) as an example.  You finish all of your poses and postures, take some time to lay in Savasana (the only pose I am good at – lying flat on my back with my limbs spread out like I just got knocked out) and then come to a seated position to finish.  Then you know what Jenny does?  She thanks each person in class for the fact they decided to come and share their practice with her that night.

It’s simple, sincere, warm and always leaves me with a smile to see that someone is actually grateful for my sharing my less-than-graceful yoga practice with her.  In turn, this makes me feel grateful.  It’s infectious.

So this full-time meathead had expanded his horizons, gone out of his comfort zone and taken his overly competitive mindset to the much more serene, flowing world of yoga… and come out the better for it.  I have a really long way to go and, actually, I’m OK with that because that also means I have a lot of opportunity to get even more benefits.  I can’t say if every tightly-wound athlete/corporate warrior would enjoy this like I do, but it’s clearly worth a shot.  I’m still finding I’m learning a lot about myself with each class, especially from the mental toughness standpoint (which is actually more like being non-resistant versus rigid).

Plus… I know I can still win at this yoga SOB.  Somehow, damn it.