My Embarrassing Yoga Beginning
Updated: Aug 3, 2020
Caught in a lie but not in a handstand
“Now, it’s time to practice handstand,” said the lady yoga teacher who stood assertively at the front of the group fitness room at my university gym. The teacher was tall with a perfect blonde ponytail. She was toned and looked like she had just walked off a photoshoot with Yoga Journal magazine. She walked to the wall without mirrors and demonstrated the proper way to flow into a handstand. With a knot in my stomach I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?”. I contemplated bolting for the door, but knew it was best to stick it out and follow through with my commitment to learn more about this yoga stuff. This commitment came about because I had a crush on a boy. Typing out “because I had a crush on a boy” makes me cringe with embarrassment as a black intersectional feminist, but it’s the truth.
I was twenty years old, attending university two states away from my hometown, and devastatingly insecure. The boy I had a crush on practiced yoga. He also had a girlfriend who he loved and was deeply devoted to. His devotion was sweet and was part of the reason I liked him. I wasn’t planning to try and break them up; I just enjoyed daydreaming about our fantasy relationship from time to time. I also enjoyed our brief conversations at parties and when we bumped into each other on campus. He was easy to talk to and enjoyed chatting about environmentalism and the miserable politics that got us into the Iraq war. Swoon!
One evening my crush was chatting with a few friends of mine outside my apartment complex, so I stopped to join the conversation. Yoga came up in conversation and he asked me if I practiced. Insecure and wanting to fit in, I lied and said, “yes”. Regret filled my entire body as I saw his enthusiasm build. He wanted to talk about the practice with more depth, and thought I could fulfill this need. He briefly talked about what he enjoyed about yoga and then asked me, “what’s your favorite pose?”. I froze as I saw the two clear choices before me. First, I could reveal that I previously lied, or second, I could try to keep up the charade and lie again. In hindsight, the former was the clear choice - but I didn’t trust the truth then. I didn’t trust that I would be enough or that I could apologize for my lack of integrity in my first response. Instead I said, in Sarah Palin-like fashion, “all of them”. He inquired some more. As I tried to remember details of the one boring Rodney Yee yoga video I watched in high school, I doubled down on evading the truth and said, “there are just so many good ones, I can’t choose. Maybe the one that has to do with the dog?”. He gazed into my eyes knowingly and changed the subject. If one could die of embarrassment, I would have died right there and then on the sidewalk. I knew and he knew that I had lied and that my conversational integrity could no longer be trusted.
Filled with guilt for lying, while wrestling with the reality that I had broken any rapport built between my crush and me, I yearned to redeem myself. After careful reflection and research, I phoned my mom and begged her to pay for a ten-class yoga series. Mind you, there were numerous free group fitness classes at the university gym, so it took my mom some convincing that these specific classes were necessary. But I was determined to say I practiced “yoga”. I was determined to revisit that conversation with my crush and have something intelligent to say. I was determined to shake the embarrassment and reclaim my integrity.
I can’t remember the number of yoga classes in that ten-week series I actually attended. I do remember actively skipping a few because I didn’t like the classes. For me, yoga sucked. There was this magazine-ready, blissful-Barbie walking around critiquing each pose I strained to get into for an hour, arousing every insecurity I ever had. Additionally, savasana (the final posture of the class) was painful. Lying quietly on a sweaty yoga mat on a hard wooden floor among strangers, with the lights off, while my thoughts swirled in my head was not my idea of a good time.
In contrast to what I’ve heard many folks in the yoga community claim, I did not have an instant love story with yoga. I actually never planned to engage with any type of yoga practice again after that first series of classes. I had enough information to revisit the yoga conversation with my crush, should the occasion arise. In my mind, my mission was accomplished.
Counter to my own desires and plans, the universe was leading me back to yoga - and not through a conversation with my crush. In the summer of 2008, some of my college friends bought tickets to the Rothbury Music Festival in Michigan as a summer get-away trip. Yearning to be a part of the group and to “make memories”, I goaded my mom into another expensive purchase.
At the festival, I made the stereotypical college memories - drinking cheap beer, dancing in the grass, and giggling with friends while walking through a forest illuminated by colored rope lights. But I also happened to encounter a tall brunette lady who exuded a degree of warmth and confidence I was unaccustomed; especially from a woman. I was fascinated by her, and she was generous enough to sit with me and speak about her life, revealing that she was a yoga teacher and that yoga had saved her life. I was in awe, not just by the words of her story with so many lovely feminist undertones, but by her essence. I felt an unexplainable joy just by sitting near her. At that moment, it was decided - I was committed to yoga study and practice. So even though my first yoga experience was negative and was brought on by a futile crush, it was seeing the light and peace exuded by a woman I admired that made me realize yoga was a practice I could embrace as part of my personal journey.
How did you start studying and practicing yoga? Who has influenced you on your path? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment and continue the conversation below.