Downward Dog Diss

A yoga nightmare, 5 lessons I took away, and tips on starting yoga

I find the start of each new season to be a great time to refresh and refocus. Yoga is my way of physically manifesting that philosophy, so I tend to make sure it’s part of my schedule as the seasons turn.

I had never regretted my decision to take a yoga class… until last Wednesday.

I headed to this studio, new to me, with anticipation. It was on my list of studios to try ever since I moved back—probably because it was one of the few with free and easy parking; unlike L.A., here nowhere you go has valet. The studio was warm (I’m talking temperature), and I’m much more comfortable in airy (read, air conditioned) studios but I let go and embraced the fact that I would likely leave the class feeling relaxed and refreshed.

With my limited experience, I believe yoga is a practice of constantly letting go of the ego, calming your mind, focusing your breath, listening to your body. On this evening, the night before the full moon, what our instructor led us through was the complete opposite of that. The class started in a seated position focusing in on the breath. I felt myself center. And this was the last time I would feel calm for the rest of the evening.

The First Red Flag

I have had issues with downward facing dog since day 1. My back doesn’t seem to cooperate, and my legs simply can’t straighten the way they need to. Despite my shortcoming, I’ve managed through years of group fitness classes. During this class the instructor came over to me and reprimanded me for doing “exactly the opposite of what she asked.”

My mind and my body tensed up. “That was judgmental. That wasn’t supportive. That was discouraging. That is the exact opposite of why I came here tonight.” However, I figured that she was probably right, so I laughed it off and took a few deep breaths to re-center.

The Moment My Ego Kicked In

20 minutes into class, she got up and decided we needed chairs. So she opened a door to a storage room and started handing everyone a chair to place on their yoga mat with a sticky mat to lay down on. She demonstrated the next pose, not really expressing the goal. I gave it a shot. She came over and reprimanded me again, this time for not holding myself properly. There was no specific correction, just a “that’s not what I told you to do” accompanied with a scoff. I got out of the uncomfortable and probably ineffective pose (after all, it made no sense to me), and in my mind I gave her the finger.

She began to demonstrate another. At this point, she turned to the class and said “If you don’t know Hatha yoga, if you don’t like what we’re doing with all the stopping and watching, you can leave. Seriously.” That should have been my cue. I had a deadline that evening, and I really wasn’t enjoying myself nor was I getting the workout I hoped for so what was the point of staying? To me, it was to prove a point: I consider myself to be fairly open-minded, and I took it as a challenge to find the benefit in devoting an hour that evening to yoga.

The Final Straw

Five ridiculous poses later… I say ridiculous because, as I mentioned previously, there was no explanation of what we were looking for in each pose. I didn’t know what the purpose was, what muscles we were engaging, what the benefit of sitting there was… she had us grab 3 blankets each to practice shoulder stands. She took a survey of the room: how many people have never done a shoulder stand (me, obviously), how many are well-practiced in it, and how many people have only done it once or twice and hate the pose.

One girl thankfully raised her hand and said she hated it. The teacher demanded to know why she hated it then proceeded to tell her she was wrong. You asked, lady.

After giving the shoulder stand a try, I decided I was over the whole thing and lay down using a bolster as a pillow because there were a few girls arching their backs over them as an alternative pose—one I couldn’t do because it was making me nauseous to lean my head that far back. Of course, here she came to me telling me I was doing it wrong. I decided I owed her no explanation so I sat upright. Then I stood up and walked out.

The Battle of the Ego

Thoughts were swirling through my mind about how I had just wasted an hour and a half (the class was supposed to be 75 minutes), how I regretted my decision to stay, how she must be a miserable person.

With some space from the incident, here’s what I’ve taken away from the experience:

  • Listening to your body includes listening to your gut: when something isn’t working for you, it’s okay to walk away.
  • Trust yourself. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, but it’s okay to accept that someone or something isn’t for you.
  • You can’t change a person. What you can change is your own perspective… and how quickly you decide to let go.
  • You can’t know for certain what anyone’s journey is like. Before you judge (or immediately after), breathe through it and release that negativity.
  • Sometimes you go through things in life merely to learn what you don’t like. That way, you can more easily identify and better appreciate what you do.

Finding Your Yoga

One’s yoga practice is very much a personal relationship, one that will go through ups and downs and evolve over time. With the sheer volume and variety of yoga available these days, it takes some work to find what will work for you. There’s no doubt that when you do find it, you will reap the mind/body benefits of practicing regularly. If you are intimidated or unsure of where to start, well-known yogis post videos on YouTube (Tara Stiles is a personal favorite and known to make yoga accessible to everyone), many studios offer free basics classes to help you become familiar with the vocabulary, or look for community classes to get oriented to a studio’s culture. You can start small and try a yoga class offered at a gym that will have a wider range of yogis at different levels. Don’t underestimate the power of research (read reviews, check out websites, ask around), and remember to trust yourself.

Have you had a terrible yoga experience? What are your tips on finding your yoga groove?

Originally posted on The Single Diaries.

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