Just like many firsts, my first yoga class has some technicalities. Some subjectivity. Technically, my first class was during the first quarter of my sophomore year in college. That was 15 years ago. I knew nothing about yoga besides the fact that it was getting trendy and I’m pretty sure the women who did it looked good. Plus, “rich” with student loans, it seemed free. That class was held on still-wet wrestling mats in the humid and rank university gym, and led by an elderly man who only instructed us into one two-minute asana (pose) the entire time—and it was partner yoga. Where we had to touch each other’s feet. A stranger’s foot. Yeah.
The rest of the class was spent telling us which bones, ligaments, muscle groups and other anatomy tidbits we’d be required to memorize for next week’s semi-surprise quiz. I dropped that class immediately.
What I consider my real first class took place at a very upscale yoga studio in Portland’s Pearl District a few months later. They offered a couple of free classes per week to help their teachers-in-training get some experience. It was intimidating, it was scary, and I felt totally out of place (that freshman 15 was turning into a sophomore 60-100). I kept going to that same studio for three years.
I quickly learned that the structure of these free classes was identical every time. Through repetition, I learned both the Sanskrit and English names of numerous poses. It was like a non-hot modified version of Bikram Yoga. I clearly remember thinking how difficult downward dog was to hold during my first class, how far my heels were from the floor, and the instructor saying, “Eventually, you’ll think of downward dog as a resting pose.” I thought she was insane.
I also remember the terror of crow pose. There was absolutely no way I could ever do that arm balance. Or any arm balance. However, it was just like everyone said—one day, it’ll just click and you’ll pop your knees right onto your arms like you’ve been doing it for years. (Although I must admit it was disheartening when I showed my mom and she said, “Kids were doing that when I was in elementary school.” But, hey, at least children of the Depression were doing yoga!).
In the early aughts, there was a smorgasbord of free (karmic) yoga classes around the Portland area and I tried them all. There were the ones where we had to chant “Ohm” for half of the class, the hot yoga classes, the kirtan classes and the rock ‘n’ roll classes led by former military bootcamp instructors.
And they were right. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. The less scary it gets. The more you form a very strong opinion of your favorite type of yoga mat (Jade … I’m sorry, bank account) and yoga pant brand (stereotypically Lulus … I’m very sorry, bank account).
The yoga community is a very warm and welcoming one—or at least it should be. And if it’s not? Don’t let those bad apples get in the way of your practice no matter how new yoga may be for you. An unwelcoming group or studio just isn’t your people, and that’s their loss. Seriously. Because if they keep shutting people out, they certainly won’t grow, thrive, or make a profit.
My beginning is largely why I started Get it Ohm! I was so lucky and will forever be grateful for all those free yoga classes in my early years of practice. I was a broke college student who truly couldn’t afford a studio membership. Now, it’s time to give back. It’s time for a little good karma (yoga).
Sometimes the best things in life really are free. Like yoga. Hikes. Great love. And those 7-11 Slurpees on July eleventh every year.
(Photo: Me falling un-gracefully out of wheel at Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood. Snow is slippery!)