I am a female powerlifter; I lift a combined 800 lbs across three primary lifts (deads, bench & squats). My mobility is horrendous especially in my lower back & hips and my coach and I agree that yoga, specifically warmer temperature yoga classes, would be a great way to improve mobility. I know I need that ability to move, but I walk into yoga classes and feel more out of place in terms of culture and skill than walking into my first CrossFit class when I was incredibly overweight. Yoga, especially in the town I live (Los Angeles) seems unfortunately very classist, skill-oriented and not very welcoming to newbies who have minimal experience. I’ve tried at home practice but fall off after a week and do not feel it is very helpful. I want to improve in MY sport and I know YOUR sport can help...i just have no damned clue how to start or feel comfortable or confident in getting there...any guidance would be so appreciated.
Fitness and Fitting in
Dear Fitness and Fitting In,
First off, congratulations for being a badass. Secondly, thank you for being so frank with your assessment. Western yoga culture has grown to be fairly exclusive within the last decade. Power yoga classes have morphed into this weird thing where it sometimes feels you can’t just show up as you are; like you have to wear the right brand of leggings and practice on the right type of mat, and be able to move through challenging postures quickly, without missing a beat. And while not all classes offered at studios are power vinyasa classes, the vibes can seep out into the community and, you're right, it’s not welcoming--especially for beginners. I am a yoga teacher, and even I have experienced what you are experiencing, and it sucks. I am so sorry.
L.A. may be a tricky nut to crack when it comes to the yoga scene, but I know for a fact that so many teachers in your area want to make yoga as inclusive and accessible as possible. If you don’t believe me, check out Jen Pastiloff. She’s a brilliant yoga instructor and writer who has made it her life purpose to empower people through her writing, her yoga retreats, and her unending compassion.
The next time you commit to signing up for a class, make sure it is a foundational or beginner-level class--I cannot stress enough how important this is. While so many athletes are agile and know how to pace themselves, too many times have I seen semi-professional athletes and pros walk into a level 2 class without any background knowledge of this practice or proper alignment. In order for you to feel comfortable and confident, you have to be there as a student first and an athlete second. Basic alignment in relationship to your own body is the most profound part of āsana, in my opinion, and it will help you form an intense relationship with your individual practice. That relationship is far more important than fitting into the mold of studio culture. That relationship transcends ego and allows us to show up confidently no matter what class or studio culture we find ourselves in--and that sort of energy is infectious.
If, as mentioned, heated yoga is preferable, I would still recommend starting at square one with a basics class--particularly for heated vinyasa flow, which tend to move at a fast pace and are a bit more “clichy.” Another wonderful option for you may be Hot Yoga. It’s recently gotten a pretty bad rap due to Bikram, but some studios do not use his name, or even have the same 26 posture sequence. If you do choose these heated/hot options, be sure to hydrate beforehand, and bring a towel and a change of clothes so that you can shower afterwards.
No matter your choice of style, try to arrive 15 minutes early. Introduce yourself to the teacher and explain your situation. It may even be worth mentioning that you found previous studios and teachers to be a bit discriminatory to newbies. A good teacher will listen. A great teacher will see this as an awesome opportunity to learn from you--both on and off the mat.
I am really proud of you for speaking up about this. So often people from different fields of fitness feel this way and are embarrassed by the response they will get. I hope that other badass power-lifters and CrossFit athletes, climbers and cyclists, marathoners and tri-athletes have a chance to read this and be inspired by your real talk and vulnerability. More than that, I hope that you find a yoga home that supports your badassery, and that you continue to crush your personal best because of it.