Downward Facing Dog AsanaLast Thursday I was sitting at a keyboard typing away and when I went to adjust in my chair, I noticed my back was a little stiff and sore. Still focusing my my typing, I dismissed my pain as a side effect of all the yard work I did the Saturday before. As I continued typing, it dawned on me that I hadn’t been sore the day before, so why was I sore now? Last weekend I built two raised flower beds set into a hill and as you might imagine, there was a LOT of digging. On Monday I was a little stiff, but that was it. By Tuesday morning my stiffness had subsided and I was my old self. So I stopped typing and began to think long and hard about what I had done to cause my back to feel so sore. I knew I hadn’t been sore the day before, so I retraced my steps through the day and lo and behold, I found the cause of my pain and discomfort – yoga.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of yoga, I think of stretching, relaxing and soothing music. Although yoga does have those elements, there is also another element that most people don’t think about. That element is called pain. I’ve been doing yoga now for well over a year and if I step away from it for a few weeks, my memory of past workouts fade and all I can remember is the calm and relaxed feeling I have at the end. If I’m “in the groove”, I’ll work out three times in one week not including frequent bicycle rides. It’s not the weight machines, the treadmill, or my bicycle that will work me the hardest. The hardest workout of the week will be yoga. Book it.

It seems so silly to think of yoga as this muscle busting, sweat inducing, intense workout, but that’s exactly what it is. All you’re doing is simply putting your body into certain positions, you’re sitting, or standing, or crouching, or even lying down. That’s all there is to it, yet you’re pushing your body to the limits of it’s capacity at the same time. You’re using your own weight as a dumbell as you focus on one part of the body at a time. Along the way you’re stretching and pushing the limits of your flexibility. You “play with your edge” as you push a muscle to stretch further and relax more, because relaxing is the key.

No matter how hard it is to hold a position, or how difficult it is to breathe, the overall goal is to let go and relax. Your mind is a buzz with the chaos and confusion that a stretch is providing through a new position and your goal is to push through that chaos and relax. To seek a calm state of mind while your leg is sending signals that “this is crazy!” 🙂 There’s been a few brief moments where I’ve found that yoga state of mind and it was definitely an “ah ha” moment where I finally got the point of the practice. I was doing the Warrior position and my knees were shaking, my back was straining, sweat was pouring down my face and I was panting to catch a breath. Then Bliss, our instructor, reminded us to relax and let go. Somehow my body understood the signal and I just “let go.” Suddenly, it was easy to breath, my muscles weren’t straining and I felt like I could have held that position forever. I was solid as a rock and yet relaxed at the same time The only way I can describe the feeling is that it was as if I were standing in the eye of a hurricane. I knew that there was a storm all around me, but I was in the center where it was calm and still. It was a great feeling.

However, like I said, those “ah ha” moments have been few and far between. Most of the time I don’t find that calm center. Instead I’m swirling in the winds of “when is this pose going to end?!” That’s how it was last Wednesday in fact. I hadn’t been to yoga class in about a month, so my memories were of relaxing and calming stretches. 5 minutes into the practice and all those memories of “playing with the edge” all came rushing back. That’s when I remembered that yoga IS a workout. 🙂

Bliss moved slowly from one part of our body to the other, beginning with light stretching and then moving into deeper stretches and poses. About two thirds of the way through the class she began to really put us through our paces. She had us in the pose Downward Facing Dog and she kept us there for awhile, making sure that we were doing the pose correctly, then she moved us into Plank, down to Staff Pose and then into Upward-Facing Dog, all in one long smooth motion. Then it was back into Downward Facing Dog. Now for those of you that have never taken yoga, these terms may seem like nothing but gibberish, but if you take a look at the links on each of the poses, I think you’ll get the general idea. At the time, I was just hanging on for dear life trying to get through the routine. We still had 20 minutes left in the class when we began this progression, so I knew that there was a lot more in store and so I tried to keep up as best I could.

I made it to the end and thankfully we began our focused meditation at the end of class, like we always do. This is the best part and what brings me back week after week. We lay on our backs, close our eyes, Bliss lowers the lights and calmly talks to us as we focus on our breathing and relaxing our bodies. I’ve been known to fall asleep during this section and snore, so it’s always a challenge to stay focused and alert. The overall effect is very relaxing and when class is over I am very mellow. In fact, it’s the quietest I’ve been all day. Who me? Quiet? 😉

After class that Wednesday, I felt wonderful. I didn’t feel sore, or strained in the least. I felt like I’d had a good workout and I was spent, that was for sure, but it wasn’t until the next day where I felt the effects of my workout. My soreness came right between my shoulder blades. It didn’t feel like I had torn any muscles or anything, just that I’d really worked the muscles hard. By Friday I felt like someone had cracked a 2 x 4 across my back and that’s when the full realization of what yoga had done to me on Wednesday. That workout really kicked my butt. 😀