When I first moved out to California, I viewed people who do yoga as being rather silly people. Every yoga class I've ever been to has been both really irritating to me, in large part because every teacher I've ever had insisted on spiritualizing it in a way that couldn't just be ignored. I also was never very good at it, and many of the classes I've attended have been too large for me to actually get a chance to ask questions about what I'm doing wrong. And so, when I joined a gym out here that has yoga classes available, I sort of ignored them for a very long time. After all, the gym I go to is a lifting gym. A majority of what I do there is strength training and cardio work. I joined the gym for the large array of free weights and machines available, not because I planned on taking any of the classes.
And then, about six weeks ago, I started to get really weird headaches at the base of my skull. It almost felt like someone was screwing nails into my skull and then clamping on them with a vice. The first time I had one it hurt so bad it brought me to tears and I almost considered going to the ER (it was about 2am when it happened). Instead, I called my friend Angela, who is a massage therapist, and asked her if she thought it could be related to the tension headaches I'd been having for about six months before this. It felt remarkably different - the pain was sharp, and gave me chills, whereas the tension headaches tended to be dull pain around my jaws and temples - but I figured if I was considering going to the ER, I might as well call her first.
Angela suggested that it was related to me tensing my shoulders tightly in a way that was cutting off blood flow to the base of my skull. She suggested several things, but one of them was doing more stretching (though at this point she'd been suggesting I do more stretching for a really long time). To that end, I decided to start going to the yoga classes at my gym. Six weeks later, I could not be more glad about that decision.
I've noticed since I started doing yoga regularly, that my back and neck doesn't hurt nearly as much. I've also started to gain a good deal of flexibility in my legs that I never had before. But the most important things I've gained from it are a new understanding of selective tension, and an a greater awareness for what I'm doing with my body even when I'm "not doing anything."
See, so long, whenever I would do anything that required using any muscles at all, I wouldn't pay attention to what muscles I was engaging. I would engage entire muscle groups that didn't need to be engaged to accomplish my task, which is both inefficient, and apparently a good way to cause back and neck problems. Doing yoga has helped me to be more aware of my muscles, and how I'm using them. These days I frequently find myself doing a mental check to make sure that I'm not tensing random muscles for no reason while I sit in my chair and peck away on my keyboard. I also make it a point to get up every 2 hours or so to do about 10 minutes of stretching or a few yoga poses that I've found are good for my back. When I do work out, I focus on only engaging the muscles I need to, and only as much as I need to (also known as using selective tension).
The aforementioned friend Angela always talks about how it frustrates her that people spend so much time learning how to do various physical activities, when we never really learned to stand properly in the first place. The first time I heard her say it, it didn't really make any damn sense. Of course we know how to stand, it's one of the first major mile-stones in our lives! But I've started to understand more and more what she means. I always try to avoid making broad generalizations of society, but in my own life, I see how my own lack of awareness of my muscles and posture has been causing me actual physical pain.
I don't think I'll ever be like the people who teach yoga classes. I'll probably never care about chakras, or think that yoga causes me to be more in tune with the spirits of others around me. I'll probably never believe in spirits period, to be totally honest. On the other hand, I'm sure a compelling argument could be made that the chemicals made by your body and brain while doing yoga are conducive to being a friendlier, more empathetic person. And that's the part of yoga that I'm reveling in right now: the physical part. The part that enables me to be more aware of my muscles, my balance and my breathing throughout the day. The part that promotes the release of "happy" brain chemicals.
So there you have it. It only took a year of living in L.A., but I've become a yoga person. Oh boy.