New Year, New Yoga

It must be January, because the yoga classes are full. Lately I’ve had to cram my mat in between the mats of people who strain mightily to touch their toes and who wobble into Warrior One. They want relaxation, enlightenment, and toned thighs, and they think the 5:30pm Hatha Yoga class is totally their ticket.

I snuck into the crowded class two minutes late and splayed a mat in the back room next to a young couple. I knew they were a couple because I saw them in the parking lot, toting yoga mats under their arms. Because they were both so fit and healthy-looking, I assumed they were yoga veterans, but after 5 minutes of Sun Salutations, it became clear that this was their second, maybe third class ever. The guy’s muscles were tighter than a hipster’s jeans; his knees were so bent in Downward Dog that he was almost in Child’s Pose. The girl was slightly more flexible, but lacked the functional arm strength that would enable her to gracefully pull off any sort chaturanga.

They both labored over yoga mats that were so new the ends curled. I imagined them making a New Year’s resolutiont to take yoga together, and purchasing the mats to solidify their commitment. It must’ve sounded so easy and good at the time, and there they were, suffering and looking as stressed as a mouse in a maze.

Not that I was any better when I first started yoga. By virtue of my sporting lifestyle, I thought that yoga would be a breeze. In fact, I was initially hesitant to give up a “real workout” in order to attend yoga class. But just because I could run 6 miles or cross-country ski all day didn’t mean that I could hold a lunge for more than 30 seconds without searing pain in my quadriceps, and it certainly didn’t mean I could sit in pigeon pose and think calming, happy thoughts.

It takes work, and no yoga beginner is exempt from the initial physical acclimation. I silently called “bullshit” on the author of the ” Om my!: Introduction to yoga is a breath of fresh air,” an article in the Boston Globe by a yoga novice who attends various classes in studios around Boston. Her first yoga class was a 90 minute Baptiste class — an intense ordeal, it’s like someone who has never run before doing a 5K. She claims after the class she “felt a little more awesome than before.” While that might be true, I marvel that she neglects to mention the agonizing physicality and constant bewilderment that yoga beginners always experience. No one was born doing vinyassas.

Yoga Journal’s Recipes: No Meat Allowed

So I was flipping through my February 2010 issue of Yoga Journal — why is it that magazines are always a month ahead of the calendar? — when it struck me that I have never seen a recipe with meat in Yoga Journal. No beef, no pork, no chicken, not even a shrimp.

Indeed, this month, the recipes were prefaced by a rambling essay in which the author chronicles her gradual adaption of “healthy” eating habits through the yogic idea of satya (the practice of honesty). Basically, she realized she had been lying to herself about her food choices and portion sizes. Then she discovered mitahara (moderate diet), which espouses the notion that “a balanced life is characterized by moderation in all things.” Except, of course, meat.

I ate lots of vegetables and fruits, made sweet and tangy pineapple my new favorite snack, and began cooking with beans and lentils. Who knew that nutty, aromatic brown rice could be so comforting and satisfying? Or that a rainbow of roasted or skewered vegetables could be as fun to make as it was to eat?

I read this with a shudder. As a vegetarian for over 12 years, and a semi-vegetarian for 4 years after that, this menu sounded very familiar. It was the diet on which I developed insulin resistance, probably as a result of the high amount of carbs (whole grains) and sucrose (fruit).

Don’t get me wrong, eating a diet filled with fresh vegetables are great, but only when balanced with a good amount of fat and protein, two things that I don’t see much of in Yoga Journal‘s recipes (with the noteworthy exception of the Chunky Guacamole, which I totally plan on making, as avocados are a gift from Earth.

Curiously, although Yoga Journal takes a blanket editorial stand against recipes containing meat, milk, or butter, they have no such qualms about excluding recipes with sugar, flour, or soy. Because those ingredients are so pure and unadulterated, right? (Click here for Yoga Journal’s online collection of recipes, all vegetarian — careful, it may crash your browser or your endocrine system.)

Corpse Yoga

This morning I decided to take a Hatha Yoga class at my gym. I’m generally leery of Hatha Yoga classes because they are too light for me, but it is Sunday, so I figured I’d give my body a day of rest. Boy. Did I ever.

My first clue that this Hatha Yoga class would be particularly gentle was that the instructor looked like a kindly middle-aged kindergarten teacher, with a matronly bosom and soft belly. My second clue was that the first pose was Savasana. The second pose was Savasana. Then we lifted our legs, and then Savasana. Then we twisted our knees from left to right, and then Savasana. Then we did some mini-crunches, and then… guess what? 15 minute Savasana! We didn’t get off our backs the whole 60-minute class.

Don’t get me wrong. It was very relaxing and meditative, and the teacher was quite skilled at evoking a meditative state of mind. I liked the cleansing breaths, the nonpressured atmosphere, and the slow movement. The class seemed well suited for many of the older and out-of-shape participants.

After the class, I heard the instructor explaining that she is an Arhum Yoga instructor. Arhum yoga is a sect of yoga that emphasizes breathing, meditation, sound vibration, and focused energy. Its Westernized name is “Pathways” yoga, and the teacher training takes place in New Hampshire, meaning there are many instructors in New England. Most of the class seemed to really enjoy the slow movement and breathing, but as I left the room, I did see one young woman doing vigorous sun salutations.

I like to feel my muscles stretch and strengthen. I like to move. I sit on my butt 40 hours a week… I don’t need to lay on my back for an hour, barely moving my legs. So I felt compelled to work out for 45 minutes on an elliptical while watching an edited episode of the Sopranos on a cable channel. All that relaxation evaporated in a cloud of TV violence. Tonight, I’ll probably do a power yoga DVD.

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New Year’s Resolution

More meat! More yoga!