I discovered yoga during the pandemic when I was desperate for community — and a year later, I love it even more.
Exercising alone was boring
In July 2020, Kendra, one of my YMCA teachers, invited me to a couple of outdoor exercise classes — hip-hop dance and yoga. With the gyms closed due to COVID-19, the only fitness activity I participated in on my own was walking, and walking soon became boring because I was walking alone.
I often walked a trail that started across from my house with a steep concrete staircase. At the top of the stairs, the trail continued to incline. I’d stop at the top to catch my breath and take in the view.
The trail meandered down a second set of stairs across a boardwalk where I walked over a black brackish bog that contained pairs of swimming ducks…and trash like Pepsi bottles that bobbed along the edge. I looped through the adjacent neighborhood, walked towards the fire station, then down Newcastle Way past the middle school. Finally, I crossed the street and arrived home. The walk took about 40 minutes, and I needed to do it every day to clear my head and pump my blood.
Exercising together was better
The first evening of classes, a group of ladies and I donned our stretchy workout clothes and brought our sticky mats and water bottles. We met at Lake Boren Park. The weather was hot, and the skies were a cloudless blue. We danced along to hip-hop music as best we could. Kendra’s choreography was challenging for me, but I kept moving. Mainly, we sweated, and we smiled. It was terrific to exercise with other people outside.
And then came yoga. I had no idea what to expect because I’d never taken a yoga class before. I unrolled my sticky mat on the lumpy ground and took off my socks and sneakers. I sat crisscross applesauce on my mat and waited for the teacher, Candice, to lead us on this journey. She had us sit with our eyes closed, inhaling and exhaling. It was relaxing. I could hear people in the park chattering, dogs barking, birds tweeting.
Candice led us through a series of moves. Each time she’d tell us the names of the moves we’d transition into. The only move familiar to me was “downward-facing dog.” The rest were unfamiliar. I’d have to watch what she did. Balancing was tricky on the damp grass on top of my mat. She led us through warrior poses, and when she got to Warrior 3, I thought she must be kidding. How were we supposed to balance on just one leg? But I still attempted the move, bending forward at the hip, lifting my right leg parallel to the ground, and spreading my arms wide like a bird. Finally, she said we were strong and told us to fix our gaze on the ground and imagine we were flying to Maui. I wobbled. I dropped my right leg and touched it down several times to balance. At the end of the hour-long session, we laid down peacefully under the beautiful orange sky. The sun was setting. The air was cool. I was relaxed.
As the summer wore on and the COVID rules changed, I traveled with this band of exercise sisters to different locations in Renton, including a studio, a school, and a park. We needed the indoor studio space over the winter months and did some classes virtually too. Otherwise, we met outside. We continued to meet despite the inconveniences of weather and COVID restrictions. We never gave up.
And because we never gave up, I set a personal goal to do an inversion, meaning I wanted to put my head down low and my feet high overhead.
After several months of training, my upper body became strong. So, this spring, our class learned to do inversions behind Honeydew Elementary.
Towards the end of class one evening, Candice had us all move our mats so that the bottom edge touched the concrete wall of the school. Facing away from the wall, we all got into downward-facing dog. Then we walked our feet up the wall, higher and higher. “Pull your belly to your spine to keep your back strong,” she said. My arms were shaking. I was holding my breath under the strain. We held that pose, and I could hear the blood pulsing in my ears. Finally, we walked down the wall. I exhaled. I was sweating and panting, but I was exhilarated.
Then she had us get into downward-facing dog again, but this time on our forearms to repeat the wall-walking inversion. Oh boy! I struggled. I quaked. I sweated. But I did it. When we came down from that pose, I was out of breath. But I loved it. The challenge of setting a goal and testing it out made me so excited.
Now it’s almost July 2021, and I’ve been training for nearly a full year. I can identify the poses now, so I can fix my gaze and maintain my balance. I can do the warrior poses now, landing my feet gracefully. I can hold the inversions because I’m stronger and steadier. I am determined to continue, to grow and learn, and to end my practices with peace.
Yoga has brought me so much joy and strength — of mind and body. It has been both a challenge and something to look forward to each week. In addition, it has brought me community. So many things were strange and unpredictable during the pandemic, but one thing I could always count on was the tribe of ladies seeking community, too.