My yoga pants have witnessed more adventures than they were meant to see. They’ve endured the miles I’ve run and hiked. They’ve been pressed against the sticky seats of movie theaters, city buses, and my Subaru. They’ve even slept with me, doubling as pajamas. I’ve just never used them for their original purpose: yoga. That all changed a few weeks ago when I pulled my yoga pants out of the drawer and took a good look at the sturdy seams that have faithfully kept me covered.
Me: “Well, Yoga Pants. What would you like to do today?”
Yoga Pants: “I’d like to actually go to a yoga class. Do you think you could do that?”
Me: “I could try, but I’ve become so inflexible over the years. I don’t know if I can stretch or bend or move the way I’m supposed to. I don’t know if I can do it.”
Yoga Pants: “Just do what you can. No one expects anything more.”
After my pep talk from my yoga pants, I went to my first class at a local gym. I figured I’d put my yoga mat far away from the other participants in case there were any “windmill” type poses or “swinging leg” action. The students and teacher looked nice enough, but I wondered if they bore the scars of yoga injuries or setbacks.
“How many people go to the emergency room with yoga-related trauma?” I asked myself.
According to the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine article, “Yoga-Related Injuries in the United States from 2001-2014,” emergency room physicians treated 29,590 yoga-related injuries in a 13-year period. These physicians mostly saw patients who were 65 years or older. The majority of the trauma occurred along the trunk region. Sprains and strains were other popular forms of injury. However, while the authors of this article recognized these kinds of injuries, they were also quick to point out many of yoga’s benefits. The American Osteopathic Association in fact, lists the following benefits:
- Increased flexibility
- Increased muscle strength and tone
- Improved respiration, energy, and vitality
- A balanced metabolism
- Weight reduction
- Cardio and circulatory health
- Improved athletic performance
- Protection from injury
- Stress reduction
After reading through the list above, I decided that the benefits outweighed the risks. I could use a good stretch or two because of all the damage I’ve inflicted on my body—and my yoga pants—while running in parks and pedaling stationary bikes for the past 25 years.
The teacher began the class by sitting in a cross-legged position on the floor. She told us to concentrate on our breath as well. I didn’t know what that meant exactly. I was already hurting. I hadn’t sat cross-legged on the floor in a very long time. I thought that maybe the breathing would help. But what kind of breathing should I have been doing? According to a 2012 article for the Yoga Journal called “Breathing Easy: Relax with Pranayama,” there are many breathing techniques that can be used in yoga. These breathing techniques are used to help people concentrate and focus. One method, which the article mentions is to lie comfortably on the back with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor about hip-distance apart. You can place the palm of your hand on the abdomen and breathe comfortably for a few minutes. The idea, according to the article, is to aim for relaxed, rather than tense breathing. It’s possible to introduce a slight pause after each inhale and exhale and the abdomen is supposed to expand on the inhale and contract on the exhale. The class I took began and ended with this exercise, which I found quite relaxing.
Me: “So far, so good.”
Yoga Pants: “You’re doing great.”
Next, we did various poses or Asanas, which have a specific purpose. The Yoga Alliance website gives a brief overview of yoga, which comes to us from India and was developed over 5,000 years ago. This practice is meant to promote physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. The sacred texts that form the basis for yoga practices are the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. The poses are meant to help students achieve meditative union between the mind, body, and soul. According to a 2015 article from Yoga International by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, “Yoga is the path of union, and yoga practices help you come to the realization that there is a connection among the different aspects of ourselves.” In other words, coming to yoga class to focus on just the body and not the mind or the soul will not help students grow or attain “union.” Breathing, focusing, and moving are all one. I tried to remember these ideas as I did my poses, but it was not easy.
One of my favorite poses that we did during the class was the Warrior 2 Pose. The Yoga Journal website tells us that this pose is named after a fierce warrior, who was an incarnation of Shiva. The fierce warrior of the Warrior 2 Pose has a thousand eyes, heads, feet, and clubs. He also wears the skin of a tiger, according to the Yoga Journal website. (If this warrior were to show up to yoga class, I’d be so intimidated, I’d leave. My yoga pants would probably beat me to the door.)
The first step of this pose started with the Tadasana or mountain pose. Basically, we stood tall and strong, with our feet firmly planted on the floor. We stretched our toes out onto the ground and tightened our legs and thighs—all the while breathing deeply. We were told to imagine the crowns of our heads reaching up into the sky, while our hands stayed at our sides.
Then, we exhaled and stepped our feet out. The right foot of the back leg pointed forward in a 90° angle, while the leg remained straight. The left leg was bent and the toes pointed forward, somewhat directly beneath the knee.
Next, we stretched our arms parallel to the floor and looked powerfully straight ahead. I supposed many in the class already knew this pose’s purpose, but I only discovered it later in the Yoga Journal .It is supposed to strengthen and stretch the legs and ankles, engage the core, increase stamina, relieve back aches, and help with carpal tunnel syndrome, flat feet, infertility, osteoporosis, and sciatica.
Me: “I’m awesome!”
Yoga Pants: “So far, so good.”
Eventually, we did lots of other things I thought I could do, but I couldn’t. Here’s one example:
Yoga Instructor: “Balance in a seated position with your legs stretched forward. Lift them up into a ‘V.’ Reach your hands forward and balance—breathing—always breathing.”
Me: “ I can sort of do this.”
Yoga Pants: “Concentrate. Don’t push yourself.”
Yoga Instructor: “Bring the feet toward each other, letting the soles of the feet touch—balance and breathe. Engage that core.”
Me: “I’m feeling wobbly.”
Yoga Pants: “Don’t be a hero. Let it go.”
Me: “No—I can’t. I want to try. I think I can manage. I’m almost there.”
Yoga Instructor: “Now, grab the soles of the feet and stretch both legs to the sky.”
Me: “I’m not sure I can do this.”
Yoga Pants: “Then don’t.”
Me: “No—I really want to try. Here I go . . . Lifting my legs . . . Oh, no! I feel really wobbly.”
Yoga Pants: “Please, just stop!”
Me: “I’m gonna fall!”
Yoga Pants: “At least let go of your feet!”
Me: “Too late!”
Yep—I fell over while still holding onto my feet. I rolled like a bowling ball toward the mirror. Everyone stopped to watch.
Me: “I’m good! I’m fine!”
Yoga Pants: “Don’t let that discourage you. Just shake it off.”
Me: “We’ll practice at home, Yoga Pants. I promise.”
Yoga Pants: “That’s just how we’ll roll.”
Since that class, I’ve been coming faithfully twice a week and I’ve been practicing at home as well. In the privacy of my bedroom, I tried a headstand. I almost made it too. An unintentional somersault ended that session, but I discovered I’m surprisingly resilient. I didn’t break in two. My Yoga Pants did not end up in the hospital either.
Your Turn: If you’ve ever tried yoga, describe your experience below. Or, try out the breathing technique or Warrior 2 Pose described in this blog. How did it go? Share your story here.