Everybody knows that song about how the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, and so on.  It wasn’t until I had been practicing yoga for a while that I realized how much truth is in that.

Following surgery on my face recently, I started to experience intense discomfort from my glutes through my thighs, almost to my knees. I wouldn’t think it possible surgery on one kind of cheek could result in pain in the cheeks elsewhere on my person, but there you go.

Anyway, my yoga instructor was a great help. She advised me on exercises I could do that might help (which they did) and how to modify poses in the class to accommodate my injuries. Possibly the best recommendation was that I try sitting in meditation pose while on a bolster, which is basically an extremely firm pillow.

I have been regularly attending that class for almost five years now.  I’m surprised I have stuck with it–almost as much as I am that I started it at all. I say that because I am an atheist and a skeptic who does not believe in anything supernatural.  When Primal Scream released a song titled “Kill All Hippies”, I thought I had found a new credo by which I could live my life.

Basically, I am into yoga solely for the physical benefits.  As soon as the instruction turns to anything mystical like chakras, I tune out for a bit.  If I think the information is possibly important enough, I’ll run it through my mental hippie-to-English translator.  I think I’ve started getting pretty good at that.

Those who haven’t attended many in-person classes may feel they can have a decent enough practice at home, using books and videos.  That’s awesome if that works for you. 

Myself, I found I prefer instructor-led classes for a few reasons:

  • It ensures I regularly do yoga.  I simply don’t have enough willpower to make myself do a practice consistently on my own.
  • An instructor will challenge you with things you may not work into a routine on your own.
  • They might also help you to modify poses that are difficult for you, so you will still get the benefits of the stretch without potentially injuring yourself

The last is what sold me on the class I have stuck with the longest.  In my first time in that class, the instructor said, “Make the pose fit your body, not your body fit the pose.”  As my body was struggling to perform most yoga poses at that time, this was exactly what I needed to hear.  Yoga has taught me to listen to my body and, if an instructor is telling you to do things that are causing you a significant amount of discomfort, you need to tell them what is happening.  If they persist in making you match a pose exactly, I recommend you find another class.

And you will likely need to try a variety of classes until you find ones that are right for you.  I’ll be honest: if you’re a guy, this will be a challenge.  While there are men who do yoga, you’ll find it is far more popular among women.  In fact, I have been the only man in the room most times, so you have to be comfortable with that.  It took a while for me to find a class I wanted to be in where the other students were also accepting of me, as well.  That connection has to work in both directions for a practice to truly succeed.

I am completely OK with that, but you may find yourself in rooms where it is apparent you aren’t entirely welcome.  Though I have never had anybody say directly to me anything that suggests that, you should try to read the room.  In general, being respectful of your fellow students and your instructor will go a long way to establishing a rapport. 

And that leads me to something I wasn’t seeking from my regular sessions and that is I am now part of a community.  I am not a very social animal by nature, but I find myself looking forward to seeing my teacher and fellow students each week.

So, how have I most benefitted from yoga?  I would say it has most improved my flexibility.  It has only been in the past couple of years that I could finally sit in the meditation pose for any amount of time.  The second-greatest benefit is increased awareness of my body.  It is amazing how much tension we carry in various muscles without realizing it.  Learning to identify those areas and how to relax them is a powerful skill.

And much of yoga comes down to control, even if it is just your breathing.  I have never found the “count to 10” method of de-escalation effective, but forcing yourself to breathe slowly by a certain count calms the mind better than anything else I have tried.

Yoga has given me better control of myself, both my body and my temper.  As an unexpected bonus, I also found a group I actually want to belong to.  What most surprises me is how much my yoga practice has benefited me when I don’t believe any of the mumbo-jumbo behind it.  It is almost like a trick I neither know nor care how it works, all I know is it is working for me.