The Upward Dog

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Every Monday and Thursday, you can find me trying to stretch my downward facing dog and desperately attempting to breathe during sun salutations. So far, I master the corpse pose, which is basically lying flat on your back on a mat.

I registered myself for a yoga class in a desperate attempt to beat the winter blues. On Mondays, I have 75 minutes of Hatha Yoga, on Thursdays, I attend a 90 minutes Power Yoga class. Note that I had no idea what I registered for since I picked the two classes that could fit in my schedule.

On my first class, I showed up in my work clothes and changed in the bathroom. I was wearing some old Roots cropped pants and the only loose-fitting shirt I could find: the U2 Vertigo tour one. Yes, the one that has three symbols on the front: a peace sign, a heart and a bomb. All the other women in the class had really nice Lululemon pants and tight t-shirts, several of them even sporting small “peace and love” or “aum” tattoos on their lower backs or legs. Note to self: next time, do not wear a t-shirt with the symbol of a bomb on it, even if it meant to be ironic.

We set up the mats in silence and I sat there, waiting for the instructor to show up.

The first thing I learned is that in yoga, apparently, you can’t just “sit there”. You have to be “present on your mat” (checked), “relaxed’ (checked), “breathing deeply” (checked)… and in padmasana position. Huh? The lotus pose, the one in which you sit crossed-legs with the feet resting on your hip. Yeah, right.

In yoga, sitting is painful.

Fortunately, after a few minutes of heavy breathing and trying to not cramp, the teacher announced that we would now assume a relaxation pose: Adho Mukha Svanasana. I nodded with a knowing look but the truth was, I spent 12 years learning Mandarin. Not Sanskrit. Now this is actually the famous “downward facing dog” (famous because half of the yoga centers in the world seem to be named “downward dog yoga center”). In this pose, you basically form a “v” shape resting on your hands and your feet.

In yoga, relaxation poses are painful too.

Yet, I didn’t feel too bad about my absolutely non-flexible body because I noticed a few Lululemon-tight-clothes-wearers struggling as well. This was an all-levels class and I had expected to find some positions… sorry, asanas, difficult. However, my self-esteem would have been even stronger if I hadn’t set up my mat by a young woman who seemed straight out of the Cirque du Soleil. I watched her in the corner of my eyes as she bent effortlessly to reach her toes and formed a perfect downward dog she held for a full five minutes. She then sat on her knees with the thighs perpendicular to the floor, dropped her head back, and somehow slowly lowered her crown to the ground. Ouch. Deep backbend. Apparently, that was her warn-up routine.

Meanwhile, I was struggling to keep my right arm in from of me and my left arm behind in warrior II position. Who knew that keeping arm straight up for two minutes was difficult?

But I’m glad to report that I have improved these last two months. I love my yoga studio because the classes are small and most of them are drop in. Yoga is relaxing and I do feel good after my classes. I discovered a few muscles I didn’t know I had and I do feel more flexible. Yet, I don’t buy this whole “yoga rules my life” attitude.

For example, last week, I decided to try the biggest yoga studio in Ottawa (you’d be surprised to see how popular yoga is in Ottawa!). So I traded my 6pm Power Yoga for a 3:30 Bikram Yoga class at the trendy place. Worse. Decision. Ever.

The studio, for a start, was a caricature of yoga studio. A small shop sold incense and prayer books downstairs. People (all white suburban, 100% non-Indians), greeted me with a quiet “namaste“. The change room smelled of tea oil. Yuck.

I entered the “hot room” to find about thirty people stretching on their mats. The women were wearing even tighter clothes and most of the men were shirtless, displaying their muscles (or lack of in most case — yes, I did look). And everybody was already sweating profusely.

Bikram yoga is done in a very hot room (40.5°C) with 50% humidity. There, we will do a series of 26 poses, repeated twice, as well as two breathing exercises. I realized very quickly that even though the positions weren’t that challenging, my yoga mates were: staring at oneself in the mirror seemed to be a very ppopular yoga pose here. Worse for me, the oppressive heat and unbearable humidity made me feel I was trying to stretch in hell. Grabbing your feet, your toes or your other hand when you’re dripping sweat is difficult enough. Having an instructor yells “streeetch! moooore! breeeeathe! deeeper!” adds to the stress. By the time we were allowed to pause to drink water, my heart was beating fast, my head was pounding and I felt nauseous. I glanced at the clock. Only half-way. Forty five minutes left.

After the second half of the class, I only kind of attempted the poses. Doing yoga in an hellish sauna room was not for me. And when I saw someone leaving fifteen minutes before the end of the class, I sighted with relief. I needed fresh air. Another girl at the far end of the class gathered her stuffs and I did the same, only to be stopped by the instructor herself. I swear I did not know that leaving before the class is finished was stealing everybody’s energy. But I did not care. Selfish me. I just wanted to breathe fresh air. I nodded without a word and stepped out of the class. The girl who left at the same time and I looked at each other: “too fucking hot…“.

I “namaste-byed” the receptionist/ shop owner and left quickly. No more Bikram bullshit for me. If I want to be hot, I’ll take a hot bath.

I still love yoga and I came back to my small non-new age studio. I just don’t like yoga as a cult, that’s all. This attitude drives me nuts. Not all of us are body-obsessed or wish to go meditate in an ashram after all…

How about you? Tried yoga before?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

28 Comments

  1. Good try Zhu and yes I’ve tried once and boy oh boy…..I can never ‘stretch’ to perfection and having backache immediately after my pregnancy I know I have to go slow.

    So you have Zhu 🙂

  2. I’ve never tried it (or even Pilates), because I’m not very New Age-y at all. Which is surprising since I’m from the West Coast, which is full of so-called hippies.

    However, I like the idea of relaxation and meditation but for me that also means being alone and not in a group. If I ever try yoga, I’d rather watch it on a screen or from something I can shut off 🙂

    (I think I’m not really against the idea of such things, just not into the group stuff.)

  3. Wow Zhu, something good to try………I am sure time after time you will be good with it.

    BTW I am from land of Yoga (see one more reason why you should come to India) 😀 so I know Yoga on very basic level. In India almost all children are given Yoga basic training from school. Unfortunately after school no one takes it seriously and so did I 🙁

  4. Salut Zhu,
    I never tried yoga; I’ll give you credit for wanting to learn something new to better physically. I have a good US friend near home that swears by yoga. Coming from San Diego, she used to take her classes on the beach !
    We both are doing new things; you read about our hiking. We need to do more hikes and to prgressively walk longer & longer.

    I hope that we both progress in our activities 😉

    See you soon.

  5. I tried power yoga before at my community center and it was full of old people. I didn’t have to feel bad if I can’t do all the positions:p It was a lot of fun and my back was not hurting me anymore.

    I think Lululemon is overpriced store with cheap clothing quality.

  6. Nope, haven’t tried yoga but apparently I’ve been doing it unconsciously! The corpse position for example is a favorite! Hahaha! Hello by the way! Been a while!

  7. Hi Zhu,

    Sure I’ve tried it before. I still do it currently. Where I come from, there is no sweating, we take it cold and at times almost frozen. It also comes in different sizes and flavors. My favorites are those that are mixed with fruits and are packed with full HACCP labels.

    Did I get you right about this. You were talking about yoghurt weren’t you? LOL! 🙂 –Durano, done!

  8. I’ve never done yoga, and not sure why. I think I’d really like it! But yeah, 40.5′ and 50% humidity? That sounds like the kind of ickish conditions I want to escape here!

    And yeah, the whole lifestyle that goes with it, the food, the clothes, the attitudes – it’s a bit much. I should try a yoga DVD one day. Have you ever tried that?

  9. haha I wondered what on earth this post was about after reading the first sentence! I did yoga a few times, but I never encountered the dogs you wrote about!

    I like yoga, but after a few weeks I always find myself looking for something more energetic. I think it is very good for you though, if you can stay with it.

  10. I’ve never done yoga, and I used to have a religious anti-yoga stance, but since I’ve shut up and started to read more, I realize that I have no right to be against it on a religious level.

    So, I haven’t tired it yet. However, I’m more likely to try Tai-Chi before I try Yoga. Ever since I saw this video “yoga vs. kung fu” I just can’t trust Yoga.

    It looks cool though.

  11. Yes, I did try Yoga briefly a few years ago At my age and lack of flexibility it wasn’t a positive experience. Standing on one foot with my head tipped back sent me over like a felled tree. I was good at the lion facial excercise and the corpse pose. Not so good at the rest. I can’t imagine doing that in a sauna. Better to strech out like a cat and drink cold fruit juice. Better for you I think.

    I appreciate your dry sense of humor. Bye.

  12. My body aches just by reading your post! And let me tell you it ain’t because of the grammar girl:). Let’s just say that implied exercise is more than enough for my Merc-y behind compared to arduous actual exercise:). Now go take a hot bath and leave the “Hostel-lite” exercises to the “torture-prone”:).

    Later!

  13. God bless you for the effort! I laughed myself half to death over the bomb Tshirt…have felt similarly wrongly dressed at gyms before so you have my full sympathy!! I too master the corpse pose!

  14. hahaha… that is a fun post!
    Did some yoga for myself (in my room)… but I never wanted to make a fool of myself in a studio and never had a yoga instructor…

    I agree with you… yoga is good

  15. Merci Zhu. Je pense qu’on va a Ottawa jeudi, le 27 novembre car le musee de la civilization ferme tard. On veut aussi visiter le Parlement et la Monnaie Royale Canadienne…on peut faire tout ca dans une journee?

    Je te dirais la data exacte. Salut.

  16. Layne | Crete Delights on

    Yuk to Bikram yoga – that sounds horrible and sweaty. I’m learning pilates and find it difficult to believe the slow, meticulous exercises are really doing anything. But, oh, how I long for my ‘girdle of strength’ and the flat tummy and stronger back that will give me! 😉

  17. I went for regular Yoga classes a few years ago, and though it was difficult at first to adjust, I began to like it later on. Nowadays I am happier at my gym, though I do occasionally go for what they call is ”modern yoga” classes here.

    Hilarious post Zhu. I also do not buy in the “yoga rules my life” attitude. Who wants to live with a life that has instructions like: “Lift your bellybutton away from your naval?” lol

  18. I took yoga in the early 90s and loved it, but it was an air conditioned room (and it was still hot!). I can’t imagine holding long poses in a sauna-like room. You and the other girl did the right thing ditching the last 15 min. of class.

    I should get back into it. I loved the back stretches!

  19. @shionge – I’m far from the perfect stretch myself but it’s kind of fun anyway.

    @Gail at Large – See, I’m the opposite. Well, no actually – I’m not very new-age-y either. But I like the idea of a class. I can meditate alone but I can’t picture myself doing yoga in front of the TV!

    @Seraphine – The mat is thin but surprisingly paddy actually. Which part of CR are you going to? I know the country quite well 😉

    @Annie – Okay, since you’re my designated Indian for that post (;-)), I have questions for you. First of all, do people in India actually say ‘namaste’ as a greeting? Do people actually practice yoga a lot, except for the at school PE that you mentioned? What do Indians think of this yoga trend in the West? I’m just curious! 🙂

    @barbara – I’m surprised to see I’m actually getting more flexible. It’s exactly like hiking: the first time it’s difficult but it does get easier! I support you!

    @Bluefish – Really? My class is pretty young. I think classes at recreational centers and the Y attract older crowd… whereas yoga studio are more “hype” (I chose the place because it had a convenient schedule!)

    @mogLi – Wow, it’s been a long time! Glad to see you’re doing well.

    @durano lawayan – Trust me, yoga is far more expensive than yogurt – but it’s fat free! 😆

    @Halden – I have heard of that but I can’t picture myself doing yoga in front of the TV… maybe when I’ll be more comfortable with the positions. Thanks for visiting by the way!

    @Brenda – No, like I said, I like the class atmosphere for now. Maybe for a daily practice when I’ll be stuck at home with the snowstorm…

    @Liz – I thought yoga was slow-paced at first but power yoga is quite… energetic! At least, enough for me. I’m usually dripping sweat after a few sun salutations! 😆

    @sir jorge – To be honest, yoga is just a good exercise for me, I don’t think of its spiritual side too much, even if I enjoy the quiet time.

    @Bill Miller – We all have strenghts and weaknesses, based on our morphology as well I think. My back is quite curved and really flexible but my legs… not so much. We all struggle in some positions! That said, I’d take the glass of juice 😉

    @Deadpoolite – Don’t worry – it’s just a momentary lapse of reason. I’ll be back on the sofa in no time 😆

    @DianeCA – Who knew you had to look good in a place where you sweat a lot! 😆

    @Sidney – Oh, I don’t mind making a fool of myself. It’s my karma 😉

    @Cori – I think the YMCA’s classes are a bit more relax. Yoga studios can be way too trendy… but the classes are too late for me at the Y.

    @Bluefish – Oui, tiens moi au courant et rappelle-moi de te donner mon numéro de portable. Si tu veux les musées, le musée de la guerre est gratuit de 16:00 à 18:00 tous les soirs aussi. C’est populaire.

    @Seraphine – Yeah, I know, I shouldn’t have… I blame the Bush years.

    @Layne | Crete Delights – I want to take pilates after this winter yoga session. I found a nice studio by my work where people don’t seem too… well you know, non-humans 😉 I like the idea of a flat stomach too!

    @Celine – I agree! Besides, why on earth would I want to look at my bellybutton?? 😆

    @宝茹 – No, just yoga, of course… what were you imaginating? 😆

    @Scarlet – Wow, you were a precursor of yoga! Yeah, Bikram is stupid, I really don’t think it’s good for your heart anyway.

  20. Salut Zhu! You did make me smile with your hot room 🙂
    I like the stretching and postural part of yoga, but I can’t do all the spiritual Zen inner-awareness claptrap. I can’t do that whole full awareness of your body and your muscles and your toenails!! It just makes me want to laugh.

  21. The only yoga I’ve tried is with my Wii (Wii fit anyone?) and I think is interesting, but just thinking about the experience of having to do it with so many people watching you or behaving like you are saying, keeps me away from the yoga centers and closer to my wii ^^

  22. @Lis of the North – I’m not a very spiritual person in the first place so I don’t bother with all the blahblah. But my instructor is very straightforward and doesn’t buy it either I think 😆

    @Aiglee – I’m planning to buy a wii sometimes but I think I like the energy in my class, even if it’s a bit more expensive.

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