Before this week, 95% of my yogic knowledge came from following a few Yoga with Kassandra videos on YouTube. Even those few videos were enough to start improving my flexibility, but this week I was curious how it’d compare to practicing regularly at a real yoga studio. I was interested not only in the physical benefits, but as a part-time meditation enjoyer I was also interested in the mental/spiritual side of things. I ended up going to the studio 4 times, and spent a couple hours each day learning about yogic philosophy.
I’d say in-person classes were overall more effective than training at home, but it still had its pros and cons. I expected the biggest benefit of in-person classes being more directed instruction, but honestly it didn’t make that much of a difference. You’re still in a group with 20 other people, so although there were a couple instances of the instructor giving me specific advice on how to fix my posture, overall the cues they gave were pretty general.
The biggest benefit for me was actually the ability to do hot yoga, where you do yoga in a 104°F room. Screw baptism, the first time I oozed out of that room drenched in sweat I was born again. My body was so relaxed I forgot how to walk for a minute and my gait had a weird bounce. My sense of touch felt like it had gone from 1080p to 4K. My awareness was more spacious like I had just finished a good meditation session. You might be able to replicate the temperature in a garage during the Texas summer, but it’s nice to have a clean yoga room with temperature and humidity control.
Another benefit was the social/group aspect. Going in I wasn’t sure what types of people I would meet in my yoga classes. The answer: white women! LOL okay, half-joking there. I will say for gender it was maybe 65% women and 35% men. The general vibe was people taking things seriously enough to improve and get results, but still being to laugh about their mistakes. It’s a nice environment to be around. I think a couple of people had that slightly fake spiritual positivity, but being fake is our American culture so I will respect it.
The only real cons of in-person is scheduling and price. It’s a lot easier to do yoga at home than to drive to a class that only happens at specific times. I could probably get used to the schedule, but I’m not sure I could get used to paying $25 per class. That seems to be the going rate for studios with all the amenities, so finding a lower price might mean no hot yoga..
Even though I only went to 4 yoga classes, I could start to see improvements in my body. The yoga itself was getting easier with each class, so I could stretch a little deeper or hold my balance longer in different poses. Outside of the studio, my muscles were more relaxed and it took longer for my back to fatigue when I sat with a straight back. I have a minor degree of scoliosis that leads to all the muscles on the lower right side of my torso being tight, but even now as I type this I can lean a few inches further to the left before the muscles on the right start to catch.
Yoga reminded me that there’s more to be gained from exercise than strength and muscle size. In particular yoga seems good at improving balance, flexibility, and your mental state. A good example of something it emphasizes that weight training doesn’t is lengthening your body and limbs during movements. When trying fix alignment issues in your body, this seems to be a better approach than trying to crunch your more flexible muscles down to match the tight ones. I’ve done exercises and stretches for mobility before which have helped, but specifically for my scoliosis yoga seems to have had the best results in the shortest amount of time. I’m a little skeptical that the results would continue at this pace, but at least at my current level yoga would improve these things faster than weight lifting could.
I got a decent introduction to the spiritual side of yoga, but I didn’t get to apply much of what I learned during the physical movements. It’s not that I didn’t try to, it’s that I was so new to yoga that 100% of my brain was being used to correct my form, leaving no room for any other thoughts. The instructor would tell us to “set an intention” at the beginning of practice, then I’d remember it maybe twice throughout the entire hour of yoga. I was lucky enough to have a minor payoff during one of these moments, so I will spend the next 2 paragraphs discussing it.
First some setup: something I noticed in yogic philosophy that can feel foreign when you’re not religious is considering how an omniscient being would behave. I think it can be a useful way to break yourself out of, not necessarily half-assing things, but more like 8/9ths-assing something. It’s those situations where you really are trying, but if you take a step back you realize you could do something that’s a little new to you but would inch you closer towards the ideal.
During my last yoga class I set a simple intention: channel the divine to perform what God would perceive as the perfect postures. I think it got me to hold my balance in one posture for an extra couple of seconds. I realized that when my body was starting to get off balance I was letting it happen a little bit, but that if I focused completely on balance and less on flexing certain limbs then I could actually get my balance back. Shouts out to Krishna.
Outside of setting intentions, a lot of the spiritual stuff seemed to be lists of ways to behave and actions to perform. That makes sense because I’ve heard yoga described more as a guidebook on how to implement the ideas of Hinduism. I think the problem when you’re new is it’s just so many little things that all sound nice, but unless you’re going through and applying these different ideas they aren’t going to stick.
The one idea that stuck out for me was the idea of doing work for its own sake, and not being attached to the rewards at all. I’ve heard this idea before, and felt like I had applied it to my day job as a software developer, but then recently have found myself slipping back into caring about results. The interesting twist I heard this time is that the fruits of your work should be for other people and God. Since I’m not confident there’s a god, I can simply replace god with “the omniscient wisdom of the universe that understands perfection and gives rise to my action since I don’t have true free will”, and then doing my work for others seems like a healthy mindset.
Yoga seems different enough from strength training and cardio that it’d be worth incorporating into my fitness routine. I’ll definitely do it more frequently while I have this 1 month yoga membership, but I’m not sure if I’ll do it much in-person after that. While flexibility and balance are my weak points, I’d like to do yoga at least twice per week, and then eventually reduce it down to once per week so I can focus on other fitness goals.
In the book I was reading Light on Yoga I saw that they had specific yoga postures prescribed for different ailments. I saw one for high blood pressure and would be curious to try it out since my blood pressure is slightly elevated. While I have a healthy amount of skepticism about health claims like this, this type of knowledge has supposedly been refined through thousands of years of people practicing yoga and seeing what works, so it doesn’t seem fair to completely dismiss either.
I’ve heard yoga described as a tool to enhance meditation, and that seems like a fair description to me. When your body is more relaxed there are less distracting sensations in consciousness, and if you can sit longer with better posture you can theoretically get deeper into meditation. So for spirituality I still value meditation over yoga, but moving forward I’d like to use yoga as a helpful supplement.