Open Up and Say Om

My most-detested part of high school was Wednesday Afternoon Sport – the enforced display of wobbly body and uncoordination in front of peers beneath blazing Australian sunshine. Grrrreat. But there was some relief in the senior years when we could pick our own sports. In Year 11 I chose indoor carpet bowls, down at the local Services Club instructed by an old man who smelled faintly of urine.

Then in Year 12 I chose yoga, taught by one of my favourite teachers Mrs W. I discovered a whole new level of physical hopelessness but I didn't care, I was out of the sun!

On graduation night (1995) in my matronly garb, I demonstrated my skillz by posing for this picture with Mrs W and my friend Susan.


Since then I'd done the odd class and accumulated a dusty pile of DVDs. But a few months ago, after reading about Mary and Beth and SJ and Phil and Erin et al getting bendy, I decided I needed a new obsession. As much as I love my weight training and tolerate hillwalking and HIIT intervals, I needed something more mellow; something to get lost in.

So last month I went to a class at the local council gym. It's in a poky room, with bodies of all shapes and sizes and ages. There's a faint whiff of salt and grease from the chip shop down the block and you can hear cars and buses and spotty young blokes gobbing and swearing on the street below.

But somehow that all melts away when our teacher starts turns down the lights and starts speaking. She has this rich, low voice so every instruction sounds like singing. I don't know what the hell she's talking about half the time so I'm always peeking at other people for a hint. Whenever she says quietly and pointedly that we should all Go At Our Own Pace and that Yoga Isn't A Competition, I'm paranoid she means me and want to say, "Dude! I'm not competitive! For once. Just clueless!"

I do like having a quiet competition with myself though. I love trying some wacky pose and feeling my body stiffen in protest. But then I breathe a wee bit and try again and ease deeper into it, stretching and unraveling. It's hard not to "woohoo" out loud sometimes.

It's been strangely confronting too. In the first class we did shoulder stands. I watched the teacher demonstrate and thought, "No bloody way". I started doing a modified move but she came over and gently pulled my feet into the air and told me how to adjust my upper body and lift lift lift. Arrgh! It was bloody terrifying, that upside-downy feeling, like my guts were going to fly out of my mouth! I'd never done anything like that before in my life; I avoided cartwheels and somersaults and monkey bars when I was a kid. It was such a shocking sensation but I got a mad rush from pushing through that little barrier, mental and physical.

Afterwards I raced home and babbled happily to Gareth for hours. Life's great! Yoga rules! I felt high like I'd guzzled a whole pack of jelly beans. I blew the dust off the DVDs and counted down the days til the next class.

Last week was bloody awful. I haven't been in a positive frame of mind lately; my confidence has been a wee bit shaky. When I got to class I proceeded to stuff up every single move, confusing left and right (I always have to make an L shape with my hand as it is), tripping over my mat and clomping on the floorboards like an elephant. It just seemed like a metaphor for my general ineptness and inability to get my shit together.

Normally I love the quietness of the class and disappear, but last week the quiet just meant I could hear my brain bubbling over. It reminded me of when I got that full body massage earlier this year – when confronted with yourself and your body in such a raw way, all the things you've try to ignore seem to come to the surface. I actually was in tears doing a stupid triangle pose! Raaahhh!

So there's been some up and downs but quite like how yoga screws with my head. I'm officially hooked. It's a lot more challenging than carpet bowls, anyway.

42 thoughts on “Open Up and Say Om

  1. Yeah! (Or should I say: Ommmm?) I told you it’s totally addictive. And I find my teacher’s voice so soothing I’m tempted to tape it and keep it on my ipod (I’m not _that_ addicted yet, though…)

  2. Put one of those coloured charity band things on your left wrist – then people can’t catch you making the L shape!

  3. I’ve never tried yoga for the fear of farting or falling over and knocking someone unconscious! I guess it’s like anything though, you have a god either love it and stay with it, or you despise it and don’t stay on. Actually my instructor at my gym said something yesterday which is quite apt… even if you love it you’re going to have good days and bad days! Hmmmn maybe I will give yoga a try. I can always stay in the back corner so I don’t clobber or gas anyone. πŸ™‚ Thanks for the comment on my blog the other day too!

  4. Yeah Yoga rules!! So glad to hear you have just “discovered” it. I love the combination of physical workout (sometimes mellow sometimes very vigorous) with the spiritual/mental peace that does it.

    I have been doing yoga regularly (several times a week) for the past year and I have gotten so strong and my body feels so good. I weigh 260lbs so the rest of you, don’t wait until you have lost the weight to try yoga (and yes, I have lost weight doing it).

  5. Oh yes, I can just imagine you saying “Dude!” You’ve been spending too much time in America, girlie!

    Anything that can provoke such a wide range of responses sounds worth investigating…

  6. It is a brave woman who faces up to these classes knowing that she will be challenged both physically and mentally. I think you are great and I look forward to hearing how you grow and progress with Yoga.

  7. OMG, I totally make the L with my hand too or I pretend to write so I know it’s my right hand πŸ˜€

    I must, must, must go to yoga tonight.

  8. I’m jealous. I keep meaning to join my local yoga but with impending nuptials keep thinking I can’t spare the pingas!!

  9. So great you’re doing this! I am one of the girls thinking Yoga is what I’ll do once I have lost a considerable amount of weight. Reading your post has whetted my appetite, though. Maybe a DVD will do for the time being. πŸ˜‰

  10. So great you’re doing this! I am one of the girls thinking Yoga is what I’ll do once I have lost a considerable amount of weight. Reading your post has whetted my appetite, though. Maybe a DVD will do for the time being. πŸ˜‰

  11. Doing yoga/pilates always reminds me just how NOT flexible I am. And how I have absolutely no body strength what-so-ever. Please tell me it gets a little easier as you lose flab, because otherwise I’d have no hope!

    (And also, am directionally challenged too. And I have to teach my kidlets at school direction/position. Argh.)

  12. I think sometimes it’s supposed to be emotional. I’m a little afraid of it, but I’d like to try it when I get more weight off. Yes, I know it’s a cop out.

  13. i think i did Mrs W’s yoga class too… cant for the life of me remember her name tho πŸ™‚ i think with things like yoga , balance & pilates its all in the teacher – if you have a good teacher – u are set! im kinda hooked on my balance class at the moment

  14. Wow – yoga at school!

    I’ve stopped doing yoga at the gym afetr we got old off by the teacher that it was a stretch class and we should be practising everyday. I thought – yeah, right – I’m just not into the spiritual side of things. Anyway, I couldn’t do any of those feet in the air moves and had to do those against the wall because I couldn’t lift my own backside off the ground! And things like the downward dog really hurt my wrists because I was really quite heavy then.

    But I do have a number of DVDs and keep planning to do them at home. Unfortunately busy social weekends are getting in the way!

    Weightwise, I’ve lost quite a bit since I tried it at the gym and I think it would be easier on my body now. Keen to try both yoga and pilates to improve flexiblity and strength – and tone the flabby bits.

  15. i just had a little flash back of me doing exactly the same thing! When we got to choose i chose bloody lawn bowls – what a slacker hey? then, when they shut that down i chose yoga, but you had to walk there so we would often just walk to hungry jacks instead and eat chips dipped in sundaes! oh the days!

  16. Oh, yoga is totally confronting, physically and mentally, that’s part of the benefit. It can be tough to deal with but so worth it. If you can find a studio with a beginners’ series it’s totally worth plunking down the cash for it to learn modifications that keep you safe in open level classes.

    I’ve been doing yoga on and off for the past 4 years and I’ve never been less than 220. Don’t let your weight stop you. There’s yoga for everyone, just keep looking for a teacher/studio that meets your needs.

  17. Seriously – I have a friend who is a yoga instructor and into all kinds of energy mediciney stuff as well – and she swears that sometimes yoga poses can make you cry (as can massages) – -’cause muscles have physical and emotional memories. Tears have sprung to my eyes in several poses and I had to ask her about it. Bad week or not, know that you’re not the only one!

  18. My sister just directed me to this blog-I’ve just started yoga and am going through the exact same thing. That first class high followed by why-the-hell-am-I-crying-right-now???

    I’ve been reassured that’s actually pretty normal and reading your blog entry today helps too.

    Yoga is great and I’m definitely hooked, but that’s a weird feeling.

  19. You mentioned Les Mills’s RPM class last month, so I thought I’d put in a plug here for LM’s BodyFlow, a tai-chi/yoga/Pilates combination class that I find simply beautiful. It’s more movement-based than traditional yoga and modified for the group fitness setting, which means no shoulder stands, but I have a supremely wonky back and I never feel as good as I feel at the end of a BodyFlow class. I have fallen so much in love with it that I now teach it!

  20. Yoga is my favorite exercise. Gotta love a workout where the last ten minutes is spent lying on the floor. πŸ™‚

  21. Oh wow, you brought back memories for me of when we all had to take this ‘Phys Ed Survey’ class in high school–swimming, calisthenics, etc. Of course none of us girls wanted to, because it was in the middle of the day and it ruined our perfectly styled hair and excessive makeup jobs πŸ™‚ I like yoga too, but I think you have to be in the right frame of mind…I’ve never been able to do it well after starting in a bad one!

  22. I can’t do yoga because of my arthritis, but I do like Tai Chi… try it if you ever need to quiet your mind. I don’t like anything, and I like it!

  23. I loved your post. And I hate to be a stupid American, but what exactly is indoor carpet bowls?

  24. Amber – Cooool! She was a science teacher… rhymes with Spenthworth πŸ˜‰

    Airlie – Chips dipped in sundaes! LMAO! Sounds strangely tasty…

    Donna and Izzybella – That’s so reassuring! Now I feel free to cry with wild abandon πŸ˜‰

    Lesley – Damn straight! I’ve been a big fan of Body Balance (as its called in non-US countries) and always found it easy to modify when I was bigger, too. Sadly the only class at my gym is a Friday night which is convenient about 1 in 15 Friday nights πŸ˜›

    Anne – Indoor bowling is just outdoor lawn bowls taken inside.

  25. Yoga is Life in microvision: if you’re stressed out and not “there”, it’s difficult and a little painful. It’s really fabulous, though, when you bring all of you to the class. (Or, at least, that’s been my experience!)

  26. Thanks for posting this, it makes me put my last experience with yoga into perspective!I’m still finding out what suits me and what doesn’t. Are you doing a beginners class? I’ve been thinking I should do one of those before I go charging head-on into an Ashtanga class again!

  27. Yum, yoga. Haven’t been to an actual class in ages but I do still like to give my DVDs a workout at home. I even have this fab Yoga For Weightloss DVD that has Fat Girls on it, and it makes me feel so normal πŸ™‚

    Yoga at home hasn’t been the same since I had a baby though, it’s a bit distracting to have a child climbing all over you! heh.

  28. I love yoga! I got back into it, doing the anusara style this year, which I really like. It focuses on alignment and my teacher is good with modifications, so it doesn’t hurt like when you jump into the Ashtanga/power classes. Sometimes, I get high on life or irritable afterwards, too. I think it just kind of squeezes out some of your emotions. It also REALLY helps my stress level – I don’t have to throttle anyone at my job if I go regularly.

  29. Shauna, I was just looking at the pictures of you at Blogher the other day and thinking how poised and elegant and happy you look. You might be more together than you know.

  30. I’m loving yoga too! But, I don’t do it nearly enough as I usually prefer cardio over it if i have only one hour to work out. I need to make more time for it as it calms me.
    I do feel not competitive at it but kinda inadequate as their are some ladies like pretzels in there and I’m not that limber. But, it makes me feel good so I will keep on doing it.

  31. LOL at your description of the location of the yoga class. We once did a class while big machines were ripping up the road right outside! It’s amazing how all that doesn’t matter once you start to practice.

    And yep, yoga will bring out everything because as my teacher was saying today, you are saying to the universe, “Here I am and I am ready to deal with everything you throw at me!”.

    The mat is the best place to work it out and I often find that I get really emotional too. I’ve definitely cried in a couple of classes. It will sure challenge you in more ways than one and you will continually learn more about yourself and the world around you. Especially in the way you react to everything. It’s a good thing I reckon, as well as getting a toned and strong bod πŸ™‚

    Cheers to yoga hon!

  32. Shauna, I just discovered your blog. Your transformation has been amazing! You look absolutely terrific! What an accomplishment!

    I am roughly the same weight right now as you were when you started. How inspiring and motivational it is to see that you, too, had a very large amount of weight to lose…and you did lose it! How encouraging!

    Thanks for sharing your weight loss with all of us. Your success is just what we need to keep us going. πŸ™‚

  33. Mmmmm, yoga…

    I am astoundingly directionally challenged, and even the L thing with the hands doesn’t work anymore. I find that I misread the backwards L, and then there’s trouble everywhere. If yoga is dependant on directions then I might need to rethink it πŸ˜€

  34. HOLY SHIT! Shoulder stands on first day! I am so glad I’m not the only one with the churny guts feeling.

    I’m so happy for you! I can’t wait to get back in.

  35. I love yoga, too! The best part of exercise is feeling connected with your body. We spend so much energy and thought space disliking how our body looks and feels that accepting it as a part of ourselves is pretty amazing. Haven’t tried hot yoga yet but would love to hear it if you do!

  36. This may sound cheesy, but oh well…here I go… When my mind bubbles over, I take a few deep breaths and then start this mantra in my head: breathe in “My body is strong”, breath out “My mind is at peace”. and I do this till all the bits in my brain I can’t turn off get lulled to sleep and let me do my thing….whatever it is I am trying to concentrate on. I am not saying you have to say that, but visualizing my breath and feeling the breath in going deep into my lungs and feeling the ribs expand and feeling the back and stomach and all the muscles that are affected, and then the breath out being very controlled and slowly letting air out really helps me… especially if you are like me and suffer from anxiety attacks!

  37. I hate to be a nuff, but shoulder stands on the first day aren’t recommended. Your teacher should be warning you to take care of your neck, you only have one. I injured my own neck with the help of an overenthusiastic teacher. Remember, your neck is not designed to support most of your body weight.

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