Yoga kills

When I was deciding on what class to take this term with Bison Recreational Services I was presented with several options. The first was tae kwon do, which I studied for a year while in grade four. Feeling adequately proficient from my past training, I decided that the martial arts were below me. This left very few options. I had already mastered the highest level of swimming offered by Bison Rec (the adult classes). This left yoga and basket weaving. [Editor’s note: there is no basket weaving program.]

I’ve always been a little wary of yoga — all that stretching and seemingly impossible postures. But I was willing to give it a chance because this wasn’t sissy lame-o yoga, this was ashtanga power yoga. Power yoga; the yoga where men are men. I pictured yoga postures where oiled and bare-chested Russians threw medicine balls at each other. I signed up immediately.

I broke out the yoga mat that my father bought me for Christmas three years back (lord knows why) and made my way to the Frank Kennedy complex.

I stepped into the recreation room at Frank Kennedy confident that yoga “ain’t no thang.” You see, I am no stranger to exercise. Every week I swim 6k, I run at least 15k and in my heyday I could bench more than I weighed. Ashtanga yoga, however, is the most brutal, painful, physically demanding thing I have ever done. Many of the positions I was asked to put my body into were bearable one time around, but the sixth or seventh rotation through these positions left me sweating so much that there was a constant stream running off my nose.

I am not what you would call a flexible person. Before yoga I could touch my toes, but just barely. Post-yoga though, I can grab underneath the soles of my feet, and my joints and limbs feel way more limber than I thought they could be. I was curious as to how mere stretching could feel so good, and be so difficult, so I sat down with my instructor, Craig Harren, and asked him a few questions.

The Manitoban: So, how am I doing in the class?

Craig Harren: You came back after the first class, so that’s a good sign. This practice is about continued effort, not gymnastics or trendy stuff. It doesn’t matter if you are failing or succeeding in the class, it is just that you “do.”

M.: Am I in the top 10? I think I am in the top 10. Y’know that move where you have to try to put your head in your feet, I think I’m awesome at that one.

C.H.: Ah yeah, number one. Just don’t break anything doing that.

M.: So, what’s the difference between ashtanga yoga and normal yoga? Is there normal yoga?

C.H.: There are many types of yoga. This ashtanga vinyasa falls under the category of hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is about gaining control of the body so that you can start to focus the mind. Ashtanga vinyasa is a series of postures, or asana in Sanskrit, that are prescribed to clean up the body through repetition and focus.

M.: Yoga’s just really good stretching, right? I won’t be building any muscles here, but I’ll be really flexy?

C.H.: The body will become very strong and lean too. For those that are very stiff, it will help lengthen or stretch the muscles. For those that are very flexy, it will help them build strength. If you have neither strength of flexibility, with practice both will come.

M.: Is it natural for me to hurt so bad that I want to die the next day?

C.H.: Yes. It will get easier though.

M.: But seriously, yoga’s for chicks right? Like, you do this for the chicks? That’s why I am there.

C.H.: There are many reasons to start yoga and they are all good, unless you are annoying the other students. Your reasons may be to get buns of steel and rock hard abs, relaxation or flexibility. Once you come and practice and start digging deeper you will find there is more to it than just exercise, and “chicks.” Just be aware that like anything, there is much out there that is more about trend and
glitz than hard work and self awareness. In Sanskrit this trendy stuff is called “Boga” and it means what it sounds like: bogus yoga.

M.: What’s your favourite part about practicing yoga, besides the really oddly comfy pants?

C.H.: I feel this is a very personal way to change the world. I am looking at myself, and how I act in relation to everyone else. By standing up straight and treating myself and others with respect, I am an example of how to respect those around me. They in turn stand up and show that respect to those around them and this respect spreads, slowly, but it spreads.

So ends this first exciting article on my experiences with yoga. More to come soon! More questions to answer: will I still look like a baby horse standing for the first time during class? Will I finally get my leg over my head? Will I be so relaxed that I let one rip at the end of class? All these questions answered and more.