02/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Yoga Provides Unexpected Life Lessons

Several months ago, I held a one-week pass to a popular fitness club in Manhattan. One of the many perks that this pass provided was access to the classes being offered at the club. I figured I had no better opportunity to give yoga a chance.

When I showed up to the yoga class that afternoon, I experienced one of the most intimidating moments of recent memory. A group of women had gathered, already stretching into positions I couldn't even fathom. These ladies brought along their own mats, wore name-brand exercise wear, and seemed to have a strong handle on the movements and maintenance that comprised yoga. It was clear to me from the second I stepped inside that this wasn't a run-of-the-mill yoga class; rather it was a more complete yoga experience that I'd stumbled upon as an unprepared and unworthy intruder.

And that's when I left, heading back toward the familiar treadmills.

Perhaps I shouldn't have allowed my fear of potential embarrassment to overtake me. I'm sure had I stayed I would have found that my these ladies were lovely people, just a bit more advanced than I was in form and techniques. But at that time, I just felt that I didn't belong there.

When I read earlier this week that the local Jewish Community Center here would be hosting a free health fair on New Year's Day, I sensed a shot at redemption. The center was bound to draw in a much less adept and experienced crowd to its "gentle yoga" class. With my curiosity about yoga's physical and mental disciplines still piqued, I decided to enroll in the class.

So there I was this morning, beside dozens of others who surely showed up to get a head start on their resolutions for the new year. Whether it was to get into better shape or to find more relaxation in their lives, we all shared a similar pursuit. We wanted to learn the basics to yoga.

We were spread out on mats on a gym floor. Most of the people there were middle-aged women in leotards. Among us were also some elderly people, a few men and one pregnant woman. Her belly restricted her from doing some of the pelvic moves, some of us wishing we had such obvious excuses to explain our lack of flexibility.

If it was my curiosity that led me there today, it was my education that kept me going. I confess that I rolled my eyes from time to time when hearing about my energy sources and how I should "surrender to the floor." Still, I wanted to approach this class with an open mind, hoping that I might take away some lessons from the holistic philosophy. Certain positions proved more difficult for me to follow. I watched as those beside me bent themselves into the requested positions.

The instructor insisted that I fight the urge to give up on the grounds that I wasn't limber enough to match the others. There were occasions when I had a knee bent or a hip elevated when I wasn't supposed to, but the burn I was trying for definitely came through. Over the course of the class, I could feel my body adjusting to the exercises, recognizing that it was no longer to be treated largely as an object at rest. And as I pushed myself more, things got easier. Some of the stretches that I struggled with at the top of the class felt more doable and comfortable later on. My hard work was actually paying dividends.

At the class' conclusion. I noticed a difference. My body felt more limber, just from an hour's work. I also recognized a shift in my outlook on yoga and those who participate in this practice regularly. People, I have found, too quickly dismiss others' hobbies, methodologies, ideologies and ways of life as ludicrous, outlandish or nonsensical. Yoga is the type of discipline that I may have otherwise chalked up sarcastically as someone else's cup of tea. Until I gave it a try.

I don't intend to continue pursuing yoga as a venture, or to even brush up on my Sanskrit just yet. I am left to wonder though if my intimidation several months ago in that gym was really disguised ambivalence directed at yoga as a discipline. Walking out that door that day, I realize now, was the easy way out.