Warrior pose, chaturanga and uttanasana were all new phrases being added to my vocabulary. Sweat was dripping profusely down my brow and I could barely maintain my grip on the thin polystyrene mat due to the pools of perspiration my body had created. Not to mention I felt like I’d been turned inside out, yet I was just trying to keep up with the instructor in my first yoga class.
Living out of Ubud in Bali for a few months, yoga is about as common as a Nasi Goreng. With jogging options limited and the makeshift home gym created from improvised furniture and water containers not entirely suitable, I reached a ‘when in Rome’ moment and decided to suit up for some yoga so as not to roll out of Bali bigger than when I arrived. Being into fitness I had shied away from yoga to this point as my perception of it was all pomp and ceremony, and a lot of humming, before actually getting stuck in and doing any good in the fitness department.
Somewhat reluctantly I pulled the scooter up to the curb outside Sariswati yoga school just off the main drag of Ubud. A 50K IDR per person admission fee (that is $5 AUD) was all it cost for the 90-minute class. I walked into a large open hall with impressively high ‘Alang Alang’ style roof. But enough admiration of architecture, back to reality. I acknowledged the few people who were already limbering up quite expertly on the floor and took a mat from the shelf. I then went to the back corner of the room to remain as inconspicuous as possible.
The instructor Coq arrived and very quickly began to get settled on her mat, legs crossed and palms facing upwards. The rest of the class began to follow her lead. Here is where my first problems began, I can’t really cross my legs. I mean I might look like I’m crossing my legs but it’s if far from comfortable, actually painful. To mimic the pose of my supple instructor was not really going to happen. She sensed this, walked over and handed me a styrofoam brick to sit on. Less than a minute in and I was already the special kid in the classroom! Resuming the starting pose I was still very uncomfortable. The first instructions were to relax and breathe, however, I was wincing and panting just to hold my terrible form. I already had beads of sweat forming on my brow.
I’ve never had great flexibility. I have done a lot of running, played a lot of football (soccer) and also cycling with no real stretching in-between. I know this has had an impact on the flexibility in my legs. Also having mostly an office based job, the dreaded curse of the computer hunch has left my upper body in less than a limber state. It’s fair to say suiting up for yoga was going to be torture and we were only in minute one of a ninety minute class!
Further movements carried names I couldn’t comprehend let alone repeat. So I was forced to follow the instructor’s movements visually rather than verbally. This is a bit hard to do when your head is between your legs. The heat was building and my shirt already soaked through in Bali’s humid climate. Without knowing yoga etiquette I left my shirt on so as not to offend.
Movements were quite ritualistic and repeated over and over with no respite. There does not seem to be a time-out in yoga. The only sense of a break was when we went into the one yoga pose I did know, downward facing dog. Here was supposedly the time to catch your breath. But breathing was what I was struggling with a lot. Breathing is important in yoga and nearly all inhales and exhales are accounted for. My breathing kept getting out of sync mostly while trying to put my leg up over my head, although I may be exaggerating, more likely it was just trying to touch my toes, which of course I couldn’t manage either.
One pose I did begin to like was child pose. Here you lay face down with your knees tucked into your chest the way a baby sometimes sleeps. For me, it was a chance to reflect on my choice to be here. I never knew how much of a physical work out yoga could be. I was drenched from head to toe and cardio-wise I was just keeping my heart rate below the red line. The instructions while difficult to accomplish became clearer over time as they are quite repetitive and I got into an awkward type of rhythm, as weird as that sounds.
With one eye on Coq and the other on the clock, I did a brief scan of the room to see how my yoga mates were doing. A lot were in a similar physical state to me, even though they seemed to make the poses look much easier than I. Coq specifically seemed to be able to reach positions I doubt I’ll ever be able to do and it’s quite impressive. Flexibility is a key sign of overall fitness and I regret neglecting it for so long.
The physical nature of the movements began to ease off and eventually I was able to lay flat on my back albeit broiled in my own sweat. Coq placed a small cloth bag of scented beads over my eyes to block out the light and like a hypnotist had me drifting off close to sleep. The sounds of motorbikes, dogs and chatter in nearby restaurants merged into a kind of white noise. At points I wondered if I’d missed an instruction and I imagined all of the yoga class standing around laughing at the new kid in school still laying on the floor.
Eventually, Coq brought me back into consciousness. I opened my eyes, gave a nod of thanks and silent admiration to the instructor’s flexibility. That was my first yoga class done. I felt like a decent workout had been had, with that satisfying sense of exhaustion I’d normally feel after a solid run. I felt muscles I never knew I had and they were thanking me for thinking of them for once.
I would not say I’m a yoga convert, or that I’ll shave my head and sit around humming all day, but I have a new-found respect. I’ve been to a number of classes since and felt better after each one. Like anything, if a class is needed to include some stretching into your overall fitness regime then it is worth signing up for yoga and it’s definitely something to include on your Bali trip, no matter how long you are there.
Top tips for your first yoga class
- Bring a mat, or find out if they are supplied.
- Use the styrofoam block or accept it when it’s offered.
- Don’t try and keep up with the instructor! While this may simply be a physical impossibility for your first class, take any advice given and scale down to the entry level positions. Better to focus on form and breathing.
- Take a small towel for wiping your brow, face and/or mat to prevent slipping mid downward dog.
- Enjoy the time-out. The final 10 minutes are worth showing up for alone to free your mind from thought.