Saturday in NYC and it's hazy, hot, and humid -- a perfect early afternoon for laying by the pool or sitting in some air-conditioning enjoying a good book, or if you're like me, catching up on some DVR'd Deadliest Catch (I find comfort watching others freeze whilst I melt; it cools me to the core).
Of course you've seen this Discovery Channel gem: manly men risk life and limb on-board ships in the volatile Bering Sea fishing for the nearly impossible-to-catch crab of the season. As I finished my egg, cheese, and bacon sandwich I couldn't help but feel sedentary and worthless as I watched these guys in below-zero temps, hurricane force winds, and rogue tidal waves give it their all to haul in giant steel pots of the day's catch.
I felt motivated to get moving and find a justifiable reason for my breakfast, so I weighed my options: too hot to exercise outside, don't belong to a gym, have no friends with lap pools...yoga. Yoga was left. I've never done it before, but there's a first for everything. Just ask the greenhorns on those lethal fishing missions: choosing to get on-board has got to be the hardest part.
Lucky for me (and thanks to fellow HuffPost Inner Life-er Verena von Pfetten), there's a yoga studio two blocks from my apartment that offers free one-hour sessions with a recommended donation of $10. I handed over a fiver and grabbed a mat. I had come for the cool air, the forced exercise, and the new experience, but I quickly realized I was in for a lot more. (Ok, I also went because the Olsen twins have been spotted there, but I digress.)
If the general concept of Yoga was the Bering Sea, then I was an inflexible (mostly referring to body, not mind) novice, afraid of its unpredictable movements and nervous that it might make me throw up. Not to mention I felt isolated: everyone around me was wearing tight pants and tank tops that revealed toned arms and flat stomachs; I in my college t-shirt, mesh shorts and squishy flesh for biceps felt out of place. Turns out the survival suit in this case is made entirely of Lycra. I started to sink.
Just as I began to wonder if I didn't quite have the sea legs for yoga, the music began and class started. Obviously I didn't recognize any of the vocab words the instructor was throwing out, so I relied on my neighbors and mimicked their motions. I already understood that yoga was about body and mind, so I was comforted knowing that even if I couldn't do all the moves, I could definitely attempt to get into the spirit of things.
The positions were hard, but the mindset was even harder. Trying to look inside, to be mentally and physically present is the most difficult challenge. "Duh," you're probably thinking. But this was my first time; don't throw me overboard just yet.
So often we look outside for the answers that yoga is a time to look inward, I thought. After a quick Google search when I got home turns out that looking inside oneself is the point. Viola! A first timer and I'm already in tune. (By the way, type in "yoga" and you get 112 million hits-- guess this fad is really catching on.)
As I stretched and pushed, arched and hunched, I focused on my existence and movement with as much deliberation as possible. But that kind of got old, and I didn't beat myself up too much when I drifted back to looking outward.
What I saw when I gazed around in the studio was community. Men and women of all ages were there together to challenge their bodies and minds. They all believed in yoga, and I was starting to see why. I'm not a church-goer, haven't been since grade 8, but the idea of socializing with neighbors on a weekend to grow and improve mutually is an attractive inspiration. Yes, yoga is very individualized, but you can't ignore the fact that when you're done looking inside, you can glance to your left or right and see a little bit of yourself in that someone next to you; someone with enough like-mindedness that they chose to confront themselves for an hour the same way you did.
Yoga was intimidating as a practice (still is) but the spirituality found in that shared experience is what will bring me back. The opportunity to be in motion with part of an organic team, like the "Deadliest Catch" fishermen, provides safety in numbers. I'll be on-board tomorrow morning for round two, and this time I'll donate $15.