A skeptic turns to yoga

Child's Pose: our "reward" at the end of BodyFlow
Child's Pose: our "reward" at the end of BodyFlow

Senior year is a stressful time. Full of deadlines, applications and apathy, seniors need an outlet to channel their anxieties and find their calm. So, I decided to try the calming ancient exercise of Yoga.

I was skeptical at first, having tried Yoga before and finding it to be a yawnfest. But I knew I needed something to calm my nerves and “help me find my chi” or whatever. So my bright yellow Yoga mat and I headed to Gold’s.

Cynthia, the Yoga instructor, was your typical granola tree-hugger. An endearing, petite woman, she started the class by dimming the lights and speaking in a soft, hypnotic voice.

We did lots of calming breathing exercises and listened to music I can only describe as “earthy.” Despite my cynical perspective, I must admit I did feel much calmer and my mind began to declutter a bit.

After holding several positions fit for a contortionist, we ended the class with meditation. We were told to lay flat on our mats, eyes closed, inhale, exhale. Cynthia then recited a bit of wisdom from a self-help book.

I left feeling ethereal, unable to adjust to fluorescent light or the loud grunting of the gym members.

Yoga, according to Wikipedia, originated in India and “refers to traditional physical and mental disciplines that originated in India. The word is associated with meditative practices in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.”

In Sanskrit, the word “Yoga” means “to control,” “to yoke” or “to unite.” It also has other meanings depending on the branch of Yoga people practice.

The next day, I tried Pilates. I expected something very similar to Yoga since no one seems to know the difference between the two.

Pilates.com says workout is all about “mind-body” exercise, core strength and core stability. “It teaches body awareness, good posture and easy, graceful movement. Pilates also improves flexibility, agility and economy of motion.”

They traced the origin of the exercise back to the philosophy and practices of Joseph Pilates. He introduced his exercise techniques to internees in Germany during World War I and then moved to the US in 1926. There he trained with many members of the New York ballet. In the 1970s Hollywood celebrities began to try the innovative workout and media coverage in the late 1980s made it mainstream.

The instructor, Ginny, was nothing like Cynthia, which should have been my first clue. She was a young, sprightly little thing with a tight body and a high blonde ponytail. She marched up to the front of the room, rolled out her mat and got down to business.

Roughly the first forty-five minutes of the hour-long class was all abdominal work. We did hundreds of crunches, leg lifts, planks, you name it. We used weights and weird “Pilates rings” that made my abs burn like hellfire. Listening to the calming music of Jack Johnson and an acoustic version of “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz did not exactly match the intensity or borderline-hostile mood of the entire room.

However, the soreness of my abdominals lingered three days after merely one sixty-minute Pilates workout, which means the class worked. Given the time left between now and spring break, I can assure you I will be back to suffer the wrath of Ginny.

Following Pilates was BodyFlow, a Les Mills workout that combines Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi. According to lesmills.com, BodyFlow “builds flexibility and strength and leaves you feeling centered and calm. Controlled breathing, concentration and a carefully structured series of stretches, moves and poses to music create a holistic workout that brings the body into a state of harmony and balance.”

Pam began the class with Tai Chi movements that just seemed to me like a lot of arm waving and what she called “sun salutations.” I was a little bored because all Les Mills workouts involve a lot of repetition, which, especially with yoga, runs the risk of putting a room to sleep. The class was mostly Yoga (downward-facing dog, plank, crocodile, downward-facing dog, plank, crocodile, downward-facing dog…) with one intense ten-minute session of Pilates.

Pam ended the class with child’s pose, a back and shoulder stretch. She told us it was our “reward.” I had no idea there were certain Yoga positions only certain participants could do. I am truly honored, Pam. Thank you.

The last ten minutes of class were for meditation, so I laid down on my bright yellow Yoga mat, closed my eyes and focused on my breathing like a seasoned Yoga pro. It wasn’t until the music stopped and Pam said “namaste” that I realized I had fallen asleep. Whoops.

By the end of the week, I admit I felt less exhausted and stressed. I didn’t feel as though I was stretched far too thin like I usually do on Fridays. Who knows if it was from my new “mind-body” regimen or simply my brain is malfunctioning after four brutal years of high school. Nevertheless, I intend to continue contorting my body into animal poses in Yoga (how the Indians managed to twist the human body into something called “Pigeon,” I will never know) and working on my bikini body in Pilates.


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