I realize I’m about 15 years late to this party, but I have to sing my own particular praises of the benefits of yoga. It’s a song that goes like this:
As I mentioned during Diabetes Blog Week, I’ve never been much of an Exerciser. I’ve dabbled in softball and volleyball, swimming, kickball and running — most of it against my will. I even survived that communal hell known as The President’s Physical Fitness Challenge. Looking back, it’s clear that what’s turned me off of exercise — aside from the sweating, the exhaustion, the lows, and the fact that exercise is the opposite of napping — is the element of competition that seems inherent in so many forms of physical exertion. I’ve long known that I’m not an athletically gifted person; I don’t need to be reminded of the fact by participating in group activities in which I routinely come in last or get pelted in the face with a fast-moving object.
But last August, after months of coercion, I finally allowed my friends to drag my unathletic ass to the yoga studio down the street. I was cautious, to say the least. As we entered the studio, students from a previous class were passing us in the lobby. They were all dressed in white, wearing elaborate hats and carrying animal skin yoga mats (I’m not even kidding). My friend could read the hesitation on my face. “Our class isn’t like that,” she reassured me. Thank Shiva, she was right. That evening was the beginning of a new relationship with yoga — and with the way I think about exercise.
One of the reasons I love yoga is that the first order out of the instructor’s mouth is usually something like, “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else in the room.” There’s an understanding that we’re all built differently, we’re all working at different levels, and we’re all present for our own reasons. It’s an especially comforting thing to keep in mind when you’re trying to maneuver around your insulin pump during a pose, or if you have to take a little break to check your blood sugar or drink a juice box in the dark.
Second, I have endless appreciation for any form of exercise whose only required accessory is something to lay on. And you don’t even have to bring your own! There’s an entire corner of our studio piled high with squishy yoga mats, pillows and blankets, ready to make you more comfortable as you perform the inversion of your choice. (Mine is Legs Up the Wall.) And I love that, instead of putting on a pair of $100 shoes, I can head to a yoga class in a pair of flip-flops — and kick them off as soon as I get there.
But as much as yoga is about relaxation and breathing and pretending you’re a pebble in a stream or whatever, it can also completely kick your ass. I’ll leave a class feeling completely at peace, and 2 days later I can barely descend the stairs at work. I see the difference in my blood sugars the same way I do when I get into a walking routine, or if I spend some time on an elliptical machine. Yoga is the ultimate stealth ass-kicker.
More than anything, I appreciate the take-life-as-it-comes approach that yoga teaches — toward exercise, toward life in general. A substitute instructor once told our class, mid-pose: “If your knees are bent, that’s fine. Rose petals aren’t going to fall out of the sky just because your legs are straight.” It made me laugh (and relax) at the time, but it’s something I’ve recited to myself many times since that evening.
Rose petals aren’t going to fall out of the sky just because my A1c is 5.0. Or because I lost 7 pounds. Or because I’ve figured out exactly how many carbohydrates are in a bowl of macaroni and cheese. After all, we can only do the best we can. We can listen to ourselves, and give a little slack where it’s needed — just as we try to strengthen the parts of ourselves we may be neglecting.
I understand that yoga is a little too hippie-dippie for some people, and I can see why. I’d be lying if I told you that my friends and I haven’t snorted with laughter after being asked by an instructor to recite an entire poem in Sanskrit at the end of a class. Sometimes, you need a Jillian Michaels character to give it to you straight, to scream in your face and make you cry because you’ve been eating too much ice cream to placate your fear of rejection. Sometimes, you need corny ’90s Jock Rock on your iPod and a treadmill in an air-conditioned space.
But more often than not, I find that I need a darkened room that smells like incense, a mat to stretch out on, a little spot for my One Touch meter, and permission to screw up in my pursuit of perfection — or at least my version of it.