Yes, yoga. In the last few years it has become the workout of choice for tiny, waiflike women the world over. Yoga studios have been cropping up everywhere like weeds in strip malls, in Victorian houses, in people’s basements. It’s a ridiculously lucrative business and an extremely popular way to exercise. But is it right for you? I’m here to dance around that question. Keep in mind that I have only been practicing yoga for a short time. I am not an expert on the history or the practice of yoga. My goal is to give you a sense of whether or not you want to devote some of your time to yoga, and what to expect if you choose to do so.
Though it has only been popular in this country for about thirty years, yoga is not exactly a brand new development. It originated in India thousands of years ago as a method of meditation and physical discipline practiced by Hindu monks to prevent health problems and clear the mind of worry and attachment. It is mentioned in both the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata, the two ancient epics of India. That’s how you know it’s legit.
An important thing to know about yoga before you embark on a great endeavor with it is that yoga was not invented for fitness. It is not meant as a weight loss tool, a strength-building tool, a fat-burner or a muscle-builder. Does it have the potential to do all the aforementioned things when practiced regularly? Absolutely, it does. But it was not created to make you sexy. Its true purpose has more to do with increasing flexibility, opening up the breath, and relaxing the muscles and joints. It is as much a mental exercise as it is physical. Get this: in Hinduism, there is this concept called Brahman. It basically means “everything.” Brahman is reality, and everything that is real is Brahman. The New York subway is Brahman. Time is Brahman. Anger is Brahman. The dead bug stuck in my dog’s beard right now is Brahman. OK, you’ve got it. Then there is Atman. Atman is the self! Simple enough, right? So when I refer to the entity that I consider to be ME, I am referring to Atman. Here’s where shit gets freaky: Atman is Brahman. OH SNAP, I know, right? So I am part of the material of the universe. Imagine a pot, and think of Atman as the small portion of Brahman that is inside the pot. Once you break the pot, you understand that there is nothing separating the self and the universe and there never was. Trippyyyyyyyyyyy. So yoga’s goal is to connect you with Atman, as well as make you one with all that is Brahman. It’s totally sweet.
There are a bunch of different kinds of yoga, all with confusing names. The kind that I usually do is called Vinyasa yoga. It is fairly fast paced for yoga, meaning that instead of spending minutes on end doing each pose, you move from one pose to the next with a fair amount of rapidity. This is in contrast to hatha yoga, another very popular type, in which there is emphasis on staying in each pose for extended periods of time. Then there’s “hot yoga,” which is practiced in a heated room to keep the muscles warm and induce sweating. I don’t recommend this type of yoga at all, because while I agree that it is important to have warm muscles, sweating does not remove a significant number of toxins from your blood. Taking a nice, long piss will do a lot more for you in that area than sweating excessively, so you might as well save yourself the heartache.
If you are interested in yoga, but are a noob and are scared to just waltz into a yoga class and make a complete idiot of yourself, never fear. There are ways you can do yoga in the comfort of your own home first, so you can decide whether or not you like it before you make it a priority for you. I highly recommend the Youtube channel yogayak. They have a vast variety of types of yoga, instructors, and video setups. You are guaranteed to find something you’re comfortable with. I also like the channel because many of their workouts are full-length, twenty minutes to an hour. I don’t understand why anyone would do three and a half minutes of yoga. There’s no way you can get your stride and settle into your breath in that amount of time, yo. I also love Leigha Butler’s channel. Her videos are like… weirdly blurry? But you can see her body, which is all that matters. I appreciate that she doesn’t speak while she’s practicing. Instead she layers a voiceover after the fact, describing exactly what she’s doing and giving tips for the viewer. It’s brilliant and you should bask in her glory. I also love Rodney Yee’s videos, some of which are on Youtube and some of which you can purchase at such awkward locations as Whole Foods or Barnes and Noble. He is a certified badass and has videos in several different kinds of yoga. His voice is so soothing I feel like I could fall asleep right in triangle pose. It is like rohypnol for the soul.
If you feel like Youtube is no longer feeding your yoga craving, and you want to venture out into the world of yoga classes, I applaud you. Classes can be a really good way to sneak side glances at other people to see if you’re doing it right. Plus, sometimes they have free coffee. First you’ll need to get a mat to bring to class so you don’t give yourself linoleum burn on the floor of your local YMCA. Sometimes a towel will do in a pinch, but you really should think about shelling out the twenty bucks for a real mat. Anywhere you find a Rodney Yee video, there shall you also find yoga mats. You can also get them at a lululemon or other hilariously overpriced fitness store, and sometimes they have them at the more reasonable places like Sports Authority or Dick’s Sporting Goods. They have that really good squishy, rubbery texture that will prevent you from sliding all over the place when you’re in downward dog, and I sometimes actually use mine when I’m doing a regular, non-yoga workout because they’re just so dang comfortable to lay on.
The obvious advantage that going to a class has over Youtube is that you can ask the teacher questions. That is what they are there for. Don’t be afraid of sounding stupid. Everyone else is asking weird questions too, ranging from “Is my left eyeball supposed to twitch when I do a backbend?” to “My spleen hurts, am I doing this boat pose wrong?” You are all there to support and encourage each other. Which is good, because yoga is not as sexy as people make it out to be. You will experience a moment, probably about halfway through your first session, doing an inversion, when before you can do so much as clench, a fart that makes the entire class assume something has broken the sound barrier in the near vicinity will escape your body villainously. Just own up to it. It will happen to every single person eventually. Your organs are shifting around, what did you expect?
So that’s my long-winded, questionably helpful diatribe on yoga. I don’t have time to make yoga my number-one health activity, but I do feel it’s useful for anyone who wants a compliment to an already busy fitness routine, especially one involving a lot of strength training. It loosens you up right proper and makes you feel great for the rest of the day. Just don’t have Mexican before going to class or you’re likely to have an accident while your butthole is pointed squarely and shamelessly at the sky.