Yoga Practice

Remembering my journey into yoga

Getting into my last year of grad school, I had suddenly dropped 20 pounds out of nowhere (every girl’s dream!). I was having hot flashes left and right, which I thought was just my inability to cool down after walking around in 100+ degree heat. My heart was pounding all the time. I felt weak physically, which was especially noticeable when I played in a recreational volleyball league. And I was also wired all the time. I couldn’t seem to calm my mind. I was stressed out with a 20 hour/week internship + 20 hour/week graduate assistant job + a full class load + starting my masters thesis work.

Phew! Just thinking back on that now, I’m exhausted.

I went in for my annual well woman exam at the end of the semester, and the nurse happened to notice a goiter. It turned out I had Graves disease (what an awful name, huh?), which is a form of hyperthyroidism. It’s an autoimmune disease where antibodies attack my thyroid and make it go into overdrive. My go-go-go semester only exasperated it. This is a lesson for all you ladies. If you have a whole bunch of weird symptoms with unexplained weight gain or weight loss, it could be your thyroid.

I needed to slow down. I needed to cut back. I needed to re-focus and put my health as a priority. I was eating okay (for a grad student) and exercised regularly with volleyball and occasional running. But cardio wasn’t what I needed. In fact, too much cardio was putting unnecessary stress on my heart.

When my final semester started, I cut back on my hours and carved out 2 days a week to do whatever I needed to do: Research, write my thesis, sit in a park, study group, whatever. I spent the first two weeks trying out different fitness classes at the campus gym. And that’s when I found yoga.

There was a Tuesday/Thursday Iyengar class. I didn’t know what Iyengar meant, but the class description sounded like it was good for beginners and moved at a slow pace. It was exactly what I needed.

My only exposure to yoga prior to my first class: Jennifer Aniston in Self Magazine, December 2006

I’d never done yoga beyond trying a few postures from the exercise section of some woman’s magazine. You know, the pages that read, “Here are 4 poses to tone up your arms” and showed Jennifer Aniston with her super sleek body. I found I couldn’t stand still in something as simple as mountain pose. Doing yoga from a magazine was booooring.

So I went into my first Iyengar class, thinking it was going to be a glorified nap. And uh… it kind of was. There were a lot of newbies in the class, and the teacher spent a lot of time explaining and demonstrating while we eased into a few postures. We used straps to slowly reach our feet while lying on our backs. We did a lot of therapeutic twists and held stretches for a looooong time. And at the end of it, savasana was the greatest thing of all. I went to that class twice a week and enjoyed closing off the rest of the world for those 75 minutes.

By the end of the semester, my anti-thyroid medicine started to slow down the chaos in my body and get me back into a calmer pace. At that point, I started getting the itch to challenge my practice. I wanted to move my body more. I was starting to get bored again. It was TOO slow.

The teacher occasionally mixed in a warm practice between all the slow, steady, quiet ones we normally had. And I suddenly had a completely different view of yoga. It didn’t have to be a glorified nap. It could be physical and extremely challenging from a strength, flexibility, stamina and patience standpoint.

When I turned that corner and discovered there was so much more to yoga to explore and experiment with, I was hooked. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to learn everything about yoga or do everything I want to in my lifetime, but I sure do want to try.

What do you remember about your journey into yoga? Did you look for it or happen to fall into it? How did the real thing compare to your preconceived ideas about yoga?

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