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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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