Recently I was talking to a student about building strength and was explaining how I found out I can do a pull up, which for most of my life wasn’t possible. “I went out to a spot at White Rock Lake with a friend of mine where they have these pull up bars and some other equipment outside. He goes out there to do, um, stuff, like uh, movement or . . . what would you call that?” “You mean working out?” he laughed in response. It’s a funny thing for a yoga teacher to say, but I’ve never been a fan of exercise. I’ve always been active, but the activity had to have something else behind it. Sure I knew all the benefits of moving my body. The idea of being healthier and gaining strength, endurance, and flexibility sounded great, but these things weren’t enough to motivate me to get going. When a medication I was prescribed caused me to gain weight, not even my vanity or self consciousness could get me to exercise. I absolutely hated going to the gym. Mindless reps of weights or drills might leave me breathless, but they didn’t take my breath away. I had to have some other goal, a challenge to overcome or technique to master. Over the years I have been interested in dance, gymnastics, volleyball, distance running, Jazzercise, Zumba, and of course yoga. I never participated in these with the intent to “get a work out.” Instead I was hooked by the fun, enjoyment, or challenge of playing.
When I found yoga, I loved the fact that I could use my body to work towards mental and spiritual growth, and considered the physical benefits to be lagniappe. At first I didn’t even like the more physically intense classes, preferring gentle flows and Ashtanga, which while challenging, is slower and more traditional than most modern yoga styles. Lately though I’ve seen a shift. I’ve become one of those people who loves to go to the hard exercise classes and try the more difficult moves. I’ve started to crave the feeling of sweat pouring off my skin and the soreness of my muscles after a hard workout. I’ve been bouncing around from power yoga to cycling to pilates to kickboxing. On my second visit to the boxing gym, the instructor made a comment that some people don’t like going to his class because it’s too hard. He argued that this is the exact reason why you should attend his class, so you’re as strong as you can be when faced with other challenges. I nodded my head in agreement and also inwardly chuckled that I had unconsciously chosen the hardest teacher. Nothing is random.
Soul Cycle has also recently stolen my heart, and my favorite teacher there also happens to be known as one of the toughest. I was talking to another yoga teacher about my new love of spin and she mentioned that through a studio swap, we got free classes a different indoor cycling studio. At that studio they show your stats as you ride so you can record your progress. Though I understand why some might like the ability to track their physical goals, this aspect really turned me off, which is why I still pay a hefty fee to attend Soul Cycle rather than going elsewhere for free. I do enjoy pushing myself, but I don’t want to see the numbers. As I pondered the reason behind my costly choice, I realized that when it comes down to it, it’s still not about the physical for me. Sure I’ve gotten stronger, so it takes a more active practice to get me to my edge, but it’s really the mental challenge that I crave. I like taking classes from teachers who help me to be my best, who keep moving the bar a little higher. I like the tough teachers who also motivate and inspire, who help me work through the internal struggles like, “but I’m too old, but I’m too tired, but I can’t do it, but I don’t know how.” The teachers I admire push me physically and mentally. They encourage me to set goals, to explore new things, and to move beyond my comfort zone. They’re positive and kind, not drill sergeants, but they also don’t let me off the hook. They hold me accountable, encourage me to move beyond the limits of my mind, to do more than what I think I’m capable of, and teach me to do the same for myself.
I still love teaching and practicing gentle, restorative yoga. I definitely need the stillness I get in my daily meditation, and I believe in regularly practicing a softer “yin” style to balance the active “yang.” However as a student and a teacher I have grown to appreciate the mental and physical strength that come from a movement practice that really works my “but” off.