I love yoga. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Yoga is for privileged California hippies who eat granola and tofu and can barely make it up a flight of stairs for lack of protein. Or maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t sit in poses or even sit still. It’s not for me.” Get ready to hear the most annoying thing people who like yoga say: If you think you hate yoga, that means you need it.
I wasn’t always a yoga lover. I started taking it while I was an undergraduate at UCLA. Yoga was completely foreign to me but the sophisticated poses, which required strength and patience, resonated with me. I loved the calm and reassuring things my teacher would say. I was a high strung type A neuroscience student and the notion of being calm and reassured was not part of my curriculum or lifestyle. I was open to it and it felt so good.
Cut to getting pregnant with my first son. I switched to prenatal yoga, which was wonderful in a different way. It was specifically designed to prepare my body and mind for the rigors of natural labor. It worked! The squats and deep sensations of discomfort, which difficult poses bring up, were direct preparation for the surges of labor and the feelings of intensity that those of us who believe in natural labor want to be ready for.
So I had my first son. And then my second. Yoga was put not just on the back burner, but off the oven and out of the kitchen. Yoga existed on an entirely different plane of existence as I nursed babies, managed being an at-home mom while teaching neuroscience, and eventually returned to acting and working full-time.
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I watched as yoga became the hip new thing. Models and actresses—and actors, too!—flocked to studios as I massaged my stretch marks in hopes they would go away. As I nursed babies and mashed up beans into paste for countless dinners for toddlers, I wished I could have time to myself again.
Cut to getting divorced. A good friend of mine lived near a yoga studio. I went with her one day and was amazed that my body still remembered how to do poses. It felt so good to remember to breathe and relax and cultivate calm. But work got in the way again. I have gone in and out of weight lifting, jogging, laying on the couch feeling sorry for myself, and recently, I took up kickboxing and Taekwondo. Yoga was not front and center.
But this holiday season, I reassessed my health and my body and my mind. I made the decision to go back to yoga. As we take on 2019, I am happy to report I am back in the yoga sack. Not hot yoga. Not nude yoga. Not “power” yoga, which emphasizes fat burning and cardio. Good old-fashioned hatha yoga. Poses. Simple yoga. Quiet. Calm. Peace. Serenity.
Here are my tips for yoga success.
- Don’t do yoga in L.A. proper. With all due respect to the lovely ladies of Los Angeles, for those of us with social anxiety and body image issues, going to a yoga class in L.A. is basically like taking class with the most beautiful, fittest women in the world. And they wear all of the hippest yoga clothes, and their nails are done, and some even come with their hair and makeup done. I just feel so awful about myself when I take classes at the places those women frequent. It’s me; it’s not them. I know I shouldn’t be focused on them, I should be focused on myself. Well, guess what? Progress not perfection. I take class in a suburb and I feel much less self-conscious.
- You don’t need to buy fancy yoga clothes unless you really want to. I just wear whatever I want, which is usually baggy and comfy and I feel great.
- Lean into discomfort. If you think you hate yoga because it feels uncomfortable, that’s because yoga is designed to exercise the muscles required to get through tough stuff. That’s why it’s great to prepare for birth; it gives your brain the experience of going through discomfort without needing to run from it or perceive it as dangerous. In addition, your joints contain muscular connections called fascia which are said to “hold” memory and emotion; scientifically speaking, they hold a lot of tension and rotation of force. This means there is a powerful set of sensations stimulated when you are in poses that put strain on the fascia. This makes some of us cry. And that’s okay. Yoga is a safe place for experiencing discomfort and feeling supported to breathe into it and through it.
- Take what you like and leave the rest. You’re likely going to hear things in a yoga class that rub you the wrong way. Maybe the teacher is too “out there” and talks too much about chakras. Maybe you don’t like the way they prepare you to set an intention for the class. Whatever it is, it’s your time to dedicate to learning how to feel new things and be okay with those feelings. Stick with what resonates with you. Leave the rest on the mat.
Of all of the trends out there, yoga is the one I most stand behind. Yoga is an ancient practice of aligning your body and your mind. It encourages getting in touch with your body from the inside out. It gently forces those of us who claim to be too busy, too antsy, too “cerebral” to open our minds and hearts to the possibility that maybe optimal—or closer to optimal—health lies is finding new ways to move, new ways to be still, and endless ways to be reminded that no matter the discomfort, there is always breath waiting to ride you through it.