BY JEN HARPER, NYRR Coach & Yoga Instructor.
I remember the first time I took a yoga class. I was in my late 20’s and had just started running obstacle course races for fitness and fun. I was taking military-style HIIT classes, TRX, and spin on a regular basis. A friend of mine thought it would be great for me to add yoga to my training to help with flexibility. I told her I didn’t really consider myself a “yoga person”, but would give it a try. Long story short. I hated it. I hated everything about it. The instructor spoke in a tone that felt incredibly condescending to me, I was annoyed at how slow we were going and all I could think was this is the longest 90 minutes of my life! I left the class angry and annoyed and decided then that yoga was not for me.
Full disclaimer…….. My problem with the class probably had very little to do with the instructor, or the poses, or anything else. The problem was me. It was where I was in my life at that time. I thought in order to practice yoga, I had to be tall and flexible, eat leaves and granola and take pictures standing on my head on a cliff during sunrise somewhere in the desert. I was the anti-yogi.
Fast forward a few years later and I’d been diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism. A small tumor had grown on one of my parathyroid glands and was making me incredibly ill. I was scheduled for surgery within a month of my diagnosis. For 8 weeks after my surgery, my doctor informed me that I would not be allowed to run or do any of the high-intensity classes that had become my routine. I could do Pilates and yoga. Fine, I’ll do Pilates, but I am NOT doing yoga I told the doctor. About a month after my surgery I went through a terrible breakup, was in the process of moving and still wasn’t able to run. Even after dealing with my sadness and anger I still couldn’t shake the heaviness I was feeling in my chest. It was like someone was sitting on top of me and I could only get tiny breathes in and out.
Again, the same friend suggested I try yoga. A foundation class. This way we could move, and flow and it wouldn’t feel so still. I agreed to try it, but told her if I hated this class, I was never coming to yoga again! She agreed.
We set up our mats and an instructor covered in tattoos playing music over the speaker that I actually knew started out the class with some breathing, before I knew it, we were flowing through a sequence to Florence and the Machine and I wasn’t thinking about anything else. After the class was over my friend came up to me and asked how I was feeling. I answered her as honestly as I could. “I feel like a f*cking ninja. I want to go to fight crime.” She laughed, but it was true. Somewhere during that class, the heaviness, I felt lifted. I had let go of some of the tension I was feeling. I won’t say I walked out a new person by any means, but I felt better, calmer.
When I decided to get my yoga certification in 2017 it was because yoga had changed my life in such a huge way that I wanted others to know that yoga isn’t necessarily one thing for all people. It doesn’t matter if you’re flexible or spiritual. The physical benefits of practicing yoga are real, but it’s really not the point. The point of yoga is to teach us this: Can I let go? Can I remain calm in a challenging situation? Can I be ok with where I am now? It’s ok if you’re not flexible, but if you gain some range of motion in the process AWESOME. I tell my students all the time, I’m the instructor and there are days that I can’t touch my toes and that’s ok! Don’t worry about what the person on the mat next to you is doing. Maybe they can bend forward farther because they’re missing a bone or something. YOU JUST DON’T KNOW.
Jenn Harper is a NYRR Run coach and Yoga Instructor, who runs on Dunkin.