Just Breathe

by Karen Amster-Young

I was in yoga the other day.  I was in full lotus position.  My chakras were all aligned.  My mind is cleared of all clutter and I’m looking out of my third eye and everything that I’m supposed to be doing.  It’s amazing what comes up, when you sit in that silence:  “Mama keeps whites bright like the sunlight; Mama’s got the magic of Clorox 2.” ~Ellen DeGeneres

I took my first yoga class in 2002 and I had a panic attack.  I am not kidding.  It wasn’t funny. Of course, the main reason I took a class to begin with was to relax.  I left the class and vowed never to take a yoga class again.  I would stick to tennis, the gym —  the stuff I was comfortable with.  I needed to actually “move” to quiet my brain. The deep breathing, the calm atmosphere, the poses – ironically, everything about yoga made me anxious.  Maybe I am just that kind of person, I thought to myself.  Maybe I need movement, brain clutter and shallow breathing (not!) to feel alive and productive?

Years passed.  Friends, colleagues and others would often say to me, “you would be the perfect person for yoga.  You would love it.” (Translation:  get your ass to yoga – you need to relax).   I would then of course share my story and receive looks of both amusement (I tried to make the story funny over the years) and concern.

Then I started this blog project and I just knew that yoga had to be on my list.  I know it sounds crazy because yoga for many people is a part of their daily lives. But for me, it had grown to  represent many things:

– Getting over my fear of yoga (would I have another anxiety attack?)

– Getting out of my exercise comfort zone (it was getting boring), and

– Doing something for myself that I knew I really needed to do.

Most of all, it was really just time to get better at breathing and relaxing. I was perpetually working on this lifelong, anxiety-reduction quest without much success (unless of course a martini or a piece of chocolate was in the room!).

So I went. Pam, my blog partner encouraged me to go and her support was especially important when I called her from my cell phone, nervous, on the way to the studio.  She coached me through it and said, “You’ll be great, don’t think too much about going or you’ll psych yourself out of it.”  I am thankful I had Pam to call and that I told her that I was going that day. I am not sure if I would have made it there if I wasn’t accountable to her and to “52 Weeks”.

New York Yoga was small but appeared nice, calm and most importantly, very close to my apartment.  A long walk in the cold weather would have given me more time to change my mind.  I signed up for a class with Molly who was perky, friendly and calm.  I introduced myself.  I told her I was a true beginner.  Sometimes chit-chatting calms me down.  There were about 15 other 30-something, 40-something and 50-something women in the room.  I rented a mat.  Others had obviously invested in proper yoga attire and props. I tried to fit in with my outdated tennis sweats and a tee shirt.  It was 75-80 degrees in the room. I felt myself start to sweat before we started.  Soft, spa-like music was playing as everyone positioned their mats and got ready. I took Pam’s advice to set up near the door in case I needed or wanted to make a quick exit for any reason.

Molly started the class by telling us all to chant and say “OM” a few times. I felt kind of like a jerk doing this but I went along.  Then we did some breathing exercises —  you actually held two fingers together and closed alternative nostrils (yes, really) and then you start inhaling and exhaling (I looked it up later; it has a name: Ujjayi breathing/Pranayama breathing).  It was hard to clear my mind at first and my heart was racing a bit and my breathing started out a bit shallow.  We then went into some various poses, stretches and more breathing.  There were Downward Dog poses, Child poses and others.  Molly was patient and calming and perfect for my “re-entry” into yoga.  Throughout the class she said things like “remove the clutter from your head, let good energy for the New Year enter your body and think about what you want to do this year.” Good words of wisdom for the first week of 2011.  By the end of about the first 20 minutes I was getting into it.  The class lasted over an hour.

I finished, returned my mat, put my sneakers on and walked out. I thought about how I felt:  I couldn’t believe it but I loved it.  I was shocked.  I loved the class, I loved Molly and I loved that it was different from my regular stuff.  I was also proud of myself for not freaking out and just getting through it. I called Pam after the class amazed at my own reaction.  I could hear her “smile” on the phone; she was also pretty shocked at my “yoga re-entry” reaction but genuinely happy for me.  I really had an “AHA” moment this week. I plan on seeing Molly at yoga on many more Tuesdays going forward.  On a final note, thinking about Ellen DeGeneres and her funny take on yoga makes me put it all in perspective.  I laughed when I read about a detergent jingle coming into her head as she tried to quiet her brain during yoga class.   I did have a hard time silencing my worries and thoughts during class but I was almost relieved when ridiculous thoughts were popping in my head despite my best efforts.  Ridiculous is fine.  I’ll take funny and ridiculous thoughts any day of the week, especially if I am breathing right.

This week’s Getting Unstuck Sticky Notes:

  • Don’t be afraid to be afraid. It’s normal.
  • Get out of your comfort zone and you may just discover new passions or positions.
  • Don’t forget to breathe.
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categoryPosted: 01/7/11 11:06 AM

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Holly January 8, 2011 at 8:41 am

About five years ago, a friend of mine dragged me to a yoga class. I bitched and moaned all through the day that I thought yoga was stupid and that I wasn’t going to sit there making funny noises. I don’t know why she wanted to bring me. Anyway, we went and I have to say I was a little immature. I huffed and puffed and maybe giggled out loud a couple of times. The funny thing is I went back and now am hooked. I practice yoga three times a week and feel awful when I don’t go. It forced me to stop for one hour and just focus on “me”. How crazy is that.

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scarsdalemom January 9, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Isn’t chakras something you put on a sedar plate for passover, lol? I am glad that you tried yoga again, demonstrating great ability to face (and master) your fear of a potential anxiety attack. In addition to being physically challenging, once you get past the snorting and breathing under control, yoga does help quell the noise in one’s head. Keep it up!!

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Llorri Hochman January 11, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Good for you Karen,
I had done some Yoga in my 20’s & then “reentered” Yoga about 10 years ago. I had the real monkey mind, the first few times, jumping from one thought to another, etc. Casey who became my much loved teacher & eventually mentor, actually had to ask me to not talk!!! OY. Anyway I eventually went on to complete a yoga teacher training program & became certified to teach. And although I discovered that was not my passoin, I learned lots about me & yoga. Keep up the good work. You’ll be surprised how challenging both physically & mentally yoga is.. Maybe Alison & Ben will join you one day.
Miss you. xox

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Amy February 28, 2014 at 10:08 pm

If you are ever looking for some in depth 1 on 1 training I run private Yoga sessions at my Bellagia studio. You can contact me and find out more at bellagaianyc.com

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