After having been sidelined for months by a mild wrist sprain, I’ve finally been able to return to yoga classes, and as much as I’m enjoying it, the return has been difficult, too. What little upper-body strength I had managed to build up over the past year has atrophied significantly, and my flexibility, too, has suffered.
But I’m determined to get back into yoga because it’s the one form of exercise I’ve ever enjoyed. I hate running, walks bore me, and gyms of all kinds freak me out, but yoga suits me so well that I’m even willing to ignore how clichéd it is. (Twentysomething white girl walking down the city streets with a yoga mat on her back—ugh.)
It took me a while to get over the oddness of taking an element of a religion I don’t follow and using it stripped of its spiritual meaning. There’s something colonial about that, and it makes me uneasy. But eventually I concluded that I do something similar with music, even Western music, deliberately ignoring extramusical aspects of, for example, Wagner’s work that I find distasteful or simply can’t relate to and appreciating the music on my terms rather than his. It’s not a direct analogy, but it’s a useful rationalization.
Ironically, part of the reason I enjoy yoga is that, even divorced from its overtly spiritual nature, it’s simultaneously calming and invigorating rather than merely exhausting. I’m naturally fidgety—always shaking a leg or drumming my fingers or gnawing on the end of a pen—but yoga mutes all that nervous energy. It makes me still, and that stillness gives me a sense of peace.
The qualitative, rather than quantitative, nature of yoga also helps alleviate stress. When lifting weights or using an elliptical machine, I’m always obsessed with numbers—how much weight? how fast? how long? how many calories? am I improving? how much?—but yoga forces me to focus on what I actually feel. It makes me tune it to my body, so I notice when I can deepen a stretch or fine-tune a pose. I feel less adversarial toward my body. The exercise becomes holistic.
But I think what I love most about yoga is the way I can apply to it the patience and deliberation I developed studying music. It takes days, weeks, even months to learn a new piece of music, and even once you have “learned” it, you can spend a lifetime perfecting it. Even seemingly simple works can offer infinite opportunities to learn and improve if you take them seriously. Practicing yoga is the same way. You don’t stop when you can reach a pose; you try to perfect it.