I tried Vinyasa Flow yoga—and almost died

A non-athletic person attempts a fairly rigorous workout class
By Lindsey GracePublished on 09/28/2018 at 3:45 PM EDT

I’m not what you would call an “athletic” person. Gym class was absolute torture for me. The only thing I was remotely passable at was tetherball, and I’m not sure that even counts. I was a cheerleader in eighth grade—when anyone could join and we were a squad of 60—and miraculously made the small ninth grade squad despite my lack of tumbling ability. I couldn’t even do a cartwheel. But in 10th grade, my lack of skill finally caught up to me and I didn’t make the cut. I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t an athlete—by any stretch of the imagination.

So it’s probably no surprise that for much of my life, the gym has been a place I vehemently avoid. I’ll occasionally do a Pilates DVD at home, but that’s mostly the extent of my workout “regimen.” I once did a charity SoulCycle and couldn’t walk for 48 hours after—and I didn’t even stand on the bike like you’re supposed to! When friends invite me to workout classes, I give a vague maybe and make sure to never follow up. But a couple weeks ago, I was at happy hour with a friend who lives very close to me but I never see anymore. I think the tequila took over when I said, “I should start going with you to yoga.” I figured she’d forget by the next morning. She did not.

And that is how I ended up in a yoga class yesterday…. a class that was meant to be “open for all experience levels.” It was not.

It was a morning class. I woke up, and all I wanted to do was stay in bed—but I’d promised my friend I would meet her (and we’d already pushed back once because of rain), so I forced myself to get up and out of the house. When I got there, I was pleased to see it was a small class. Only seven other yogis, plus the instructor, would witness my lack of coordination and strength. The class started out pretty simply: The instructor began with a reading and asked us to set an “intention” for the class. It was a little new-agey for me, so I didn’t set an intention, and I only pretended to “om” because I think it’s weird. And I kept my eyes open.

I didn’t learn until after that this was a Vinyasa Flow class, which meant it was an intense, quick succession of yoga movements. Rather than having time to stretch out and find my place in each pose, I was struggling to keep up. It didn’t help that I was on all fours with my head down throughout most of the session, so I couldn’t easily see what the instructor was doing. She would rapidly call out “into standing splits, bring left knee to elbow, kick left foot through to the front” as if I’d know what that meant. But I’ll be honest: Even if I knew what those positions were, I wouldn’t be able to do them.

Despite it being a cool early fall day, I was dripping with sweat within the first five minutes of our flow. This was not what I envisioned when I signed up for early morning yoga. I was picturing those women in pharmaceutical commercials who are standing in a beautiful location, doing long, slow stretches and smiling at how happy they are at life.

I was not happy. By the time the instructor said, “Let’s work on our camels,” I was sitting criss-cross style on my mat shooting daggers at her. I did not know what a camel was, and I did not care to know. While everyone else put their bodies in back-bending positions that my own body probably couldn’t have even done when I was 7, she said, “Even if you aren’t stretching back, make sure to push your heart toward the ceiling.” My heart is happy where it is, yoga lady. I was convinced she was trying to kill me.

But she didn’t. I made it to the end of the hour. I realize it was only an hour-long yoga class—an hour I didn’t even fully participate in—but I left feeling like I’d completed a marathon. I was proud of myself for doing it, and actually had quite a bit of energy throughout the day.

Now, it’s the next day, and I woke up barely able to move. Muscles I don’t even remember working on are sore. I’m moving around stiffer than my 80-year-old grandma.

I told my friend I would go with her once a week. I’m sure next week she’s going to have to convince me again it’s a good idea. I’m sure I’ll wake up tired and not wanting to go. And probably halfway through the class I’ll sit on the mat and stare at the teacher thinking she’s trying to kill me again. And then at the end when I get through the hour, I’ll be proud of myself again.

I know myself well enough to know this isn’t the moment I suddenly turn into a person who works out and is athletic, but maybe if I stick to it, I can eventually do a standing split and bring my knee to my elbow and kick it through the other side and wake up the next morning without feeling like I tumbled down a mountain.

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