A few years ago, I had no idea what this word meant. If I had even heard it, which is a big if, it didn’t have much, if any, meaning to me. I certainly had never spoken the word.
Fast forward to today, and the word “namaste” escapes my lips at least once a week, at the end of a yoga class. Derived from Sanskrit, namaste literally means “bowing to you”, and is often used to express gratitude.
Anyone who knows me well knows two things about me: I’m Type A, and I love exercise, especially sweaty exercise. When I first graduated college, I made a few half-hearted attempts at becoming a yogi, attending the occasional class offered at my gym (Lifestyle Family Fitness). I always made sure to log some miles on the treadmill or elliptical before the class started, and I always left before the class was over. “That slow stuff at the end? Who needs it?”, I thought. Not surprisingly, I never got “hooked” on yoga and eventually stopped going altogether.
Then, at the ripe old age of 25, I was struck with what has become my new normal: back pain. Not crippling, can’t bend over back pain, but the chronic muscular kind that gets under your skin and stays there. After multiple doctors visits, physical therapy sessions, blood tests, MRIs, needle-pokings (I tried my luck at acupuncture…with no luck), and massages, I decided I needed a break from it all (well, mostly all – I still get regular massages!). It was time to try something new.
Enter yoga. Again. But this time, I approached it differently. Rather than take classes at my gym – the same gym where I taught spinning – I decided to find an actual yoga studio. And rather than just show up to a class and start doing sun salutations, I started at the beginning. Luckily, Ash, also an inexperienced yogi but less so than me, was up for a yoga adventure, and agreed to take an eight-week beginners course at Grow Yoga with me. Eight Sundays in a row we hit our mats for 90 minutes, learning the fundamentals of ashtanga-style yoga. We focused on our form and our breathing, and on not laughing at the male instructor’s very tight shorts.
By the end of those two months, we both were amazed at how much stronger and leaner we felt. With no more scheduled beginner’s classes left, it was then that I branched out and discovered the my holy grail of yoga: hot vinyasa yoga. Yoga, in a heated room, designed to warm up your muscles and bring up your heart rate?! Sign me up! A self-proclaimed cardio junkie, I was thrilled to find that I could challenge my mind / strength / flexibility / balance AND sweat! No longer did I feel like going to a yoga class meant sacrificing a “good” workout or required a three-mile run beforehand. With hot yoga, I didn’t feel the need to jump on the treadmill and log a couple of miles before class as I did in my earlier attempts. The class itself was all the workout I needed. I was hooked.
That was over four years ago, and I’m happy to say that I’m still hooked. At least once a week, I pull on my black lululemon leggings (expensive, but they really are the best…) and hit one of two local studios, V Power Yoga and Grow Yoga (where I took the beginner’s course). I’m still a slave to the warm, sweaty, powerful flow style of yoga that I fell in love with four years ago, but I’ve come to appreciate a slightly slower, more yoga-ish practice. Mainly, the classes taught by my favorite yoga instructor, Sally!
Sally teaches at multiple studios throughout Columbus, and I’m not the only student who follows her all over. Her style is both challenging and nurturing. While some instructors teach the same flow every class, Sally mixes it up constantly, leaving your body and mind guessing. She is an expert at adjustments and isn’t afraid to help move your shoulders into better alignment or push you to a better down-dog stretch. And best of all, she gives the most amazing neck and shoulder massage during Shavasana (the end of class “corpse” pose). My days of skipping Shavasana are long-over!
Some may argue that by only practicing heated power yoga, I’m missing out on the true benefits of yoga: relaxation, mindfulness, stress-reduction, etc, and I can’t disagree. Would it behoove me to start a hatha or similar style practice? Probably. But I still consider it a win that a former yoga quitter like me can slow down once a week, even just a little. Yoga has improved my upper body strength, my flexibility (poor as it is, it’s better than it was!), and my ability to focus. And while it hasn’t solved my back problems that brought me to it in the first place, it has given me a way to cope; bridge pose / full wheel for the win! And in case you’re wondering, I still can’t do a headstand. One of these days!
Tell me – are you a diehard yogi? Never tried it? Somewhere in between?
photo credits: Sally Walsh-Roberts