I Tried Yoga For The First Time And Thought I Was Going To Die

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I’m 6-foot-2 and have offensively skinny chicken legs. I haven’t been able to touch my toes since I hit puberty during sophomore year of high school. Maybe my muscles or tendons, or whatever (I’m not a doctor), never had time to catch up when I hit that big growth spurt, but regardless, I’m inflexible as fuck. There is a chance I have the tightest hamstrings of any grown man under 30 years old in the entire world.

I’m also from Texas, where men that do yoga are flogged in public. Ironically, I’ve lived in Austin for the past four years, lone exception to the Texas stereotype and self-proclaimed “weird” city, where there’s a yoga studio on every block and homeless hippies do scorpion handstands (or “Taraksvasana”) on street corners for dollar bills. Regardless, until last week I didn’t know a damn thing about yoga except that the pants look great on women. Just never really seemed like my scene. I’m a neurotic hater, not a peaceful weirdo.

My boss is into yoga though. He’s from Austin and has anxiety issues, so he does yoga on occasion as part of his never-ending search for inner peace. I could use some extra mental clarity myself, so after months of laughing in his face and making fun of him behind his back, I finally conceded and agreed to attend a class with him.

It’s 2015. Time to experience some different shit. How bad could it possibly be?

We rolled up to this yoga studio, aptly named “YOGA YOGA” (really creative) and walked inside. Peaceful, presumably eastern music filled the lobby, along with a weird smell radiating from some incense burning on the receptionist’s desk. The whole place smelled, and felt, like a head shop. Pretty much exactly what I expected.

The receptionist asked me to fill out a liability waiver, which I promptly did without reading because it’s yoga, not fucking sky diving, then I put my shoes into a cubby and walked barefoot into the studio with the green yoga mat my boss had purchased for me.

We were a few minutes early, but there were probably seven or eight people already in the studio, none of which were talking. Some were lying peacefully on their mats; others were engaged in intense stretching. I set my mat down in the very back of the class like a true pretender and opted for some half-assed stretching rather than just lying on my back and slowly being driven mad by awkward silence.

A few minutes later, the silence was suddenly broken by the bang of a gong and a creepy chant in a language I’m not familiar with. It wasn’t the simple “Ommmmm” you’ve seen in movies or on television. There were actual words. This chant was lead by the man I identified as the yoga instructor, lasted roughly a couple minutes and seemed like a prayer or something. I have no idea what was said and obviously didn’t participate. It could’ve been anything. They could’ve been saying, “Death to the infidels, may they all burn in the flames of God’s judgment,” and I wouldn’t have known any better.

Within seconds of the chant ending and the actual yoga beginning, I was made fully aware that this class was not for beginners, much less first-timers.

The instructor paced between rows with his eyes closed, calmly broadcasting strange words that were apparently instructions in an indecipherable tongue. I’m assuming these instructions were in the same foreign language as the opening chant, as I seemed to be the only person in class that didn’t understand what was being said. It reminded me of this one time in high school when I got violently stoned to the point that I couldn’t really make out what anyone was saying, and then freaked out because I thought maybe I’d never understand what anyone was saying ever again.

I did what every rookie does and frantically scanned the room to figure out what the fuck I was supposed to be doing. The instructor must’ve felt my negative energy affecting the chi of the class, because he quickly took notice of my inexperience and made a face that said, “Oh great – another one of these morons.”

The whole thing started off simply enough, and a few minutes in I had almost convinced myself that maybe I would make it through unscathed. The instructor was kind enough to low key show me simpler versions of more complicated moves so my inflexible ass could actually semi-participate, which made me feel like a kid with a learning disability in a normal class getting special attention from the teacher. It was nice.

I noticed one yogi badass in the front row with a Gandalf beard wearing a white tank top and tiny running shorts that wasn’t even following along with the rest of the class. He was doing some of the most insane shit I’ve ever seen. One-handed handstands with his legs folded Indian style up in the air and what not. I still don’t know what the fuck he was doing in there. It was like a black belt showing up to a beginner’s karate class just to beat the ever-living shit out of everyone. He was like the healthy Kobe Bryant of yoga, a savvy veteran just schooling the rest of the room with ease. And I was Jeremy Lin.

Still, up to that point, I was enjoying myself. Then I noticed the subtle hum of the heater, and things ramped up a bit.

Of course there was a heater in the room. Of course it was some torturous form of hot yoga and of course it wasn’t a beginner’s class and of course fuck my boss.

Within minutes of the heater turning on, I was sweating my balls off, and I’m not a sweater. I don’t sweat. I have some weird genetic deal, same as my mom, which almost completely prevents me from sweating. Living in Texas my whole life, I’ve always loved it, because everyone here is a sweaty mess during the summer, and I’m not. But even I, the king of not sweating and not smelling like a disgusting gorilla, was sweating his balls off in this yoga class. That’s how hot it was.

Thirty minutes into the hot zone, every muscle in my body was violently shaking. The girl right next to me, on the other hand, was absolutely dominating. This was a walk in the park for her, and a fucking marathon for me. She was so good that the teacher came over and placed his body on hers, really dug in Forgetting Sarah Marshall style, to either absorb some of her positive energy or sexually violate her. I couldn’t really tell as I was close to blacking out.

At one point, I was supposed to be holding a pose where I was laying on my back with my legs up in the air and accidentally did a backward summersault, so I tried to play it off by slipping into child’s pose and remaining there for several minutes.

When I found the confidence and physical strength to resume, I tried to sneak seamlessly back into the flow of the class and failed miserably. I was too slow, too tired, too incapable of doing any of the ridiculous poses that these impossibly flexible freaks were doing. I was unraveling at the seams.

I desperately attempted to keep up with the rest of the class while begging the instructor with my eyes to slow the fuck down or just kill me already. Yoga is all about controlled breathing, but every breath I took made my lungs burn with the pain of 1,000 cigarettes. I was hyperventilating. Time seemed to bend as I lost feeling in my feet and finally accepted the fact that there would be no peace for me here.

Somehow, though, I made it to the end without passing out.

The class wound down with everyone lying on their mats, flat on their backs, just staring up at the ceiling for several minutes as calming music played. I stared up the ceiling, but no amount of calming music could help me relax. I huffed and puffed and thought about how much I hate myself. My entire body was covered with a mix of sweat and shame.

Then the gong was banged again and it was all over. Thank fuck.

On my way out of the studio, I was handed some complimentary hot tea in a paper cup. I don’t know why. I just chugged it and spiked it into a recycling bin and got the hell out of there.

When I woke up the following morning, everything hurt. I was as sore as I’ve ever been. It’s been a week and the muscles in my legs still don’t work properly.

So yeah, I was right. It wasn’t my scene, and I’ll never go back. But I gained a newfound respect for all the yogis out there. While they’re in those classes doing physically challenging and totally exhausting workouts, everyone thinks they’re just doing some light stretching and some ommmm-ing and then heading home to smoke weed and eat vegan food. But everyone is wrong.

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Ross Bolen

Ross Bolen is a New York Times Bestselling author, co-host of the Oysters, Clams & Cockles: Game of Thrones podcast, co-host of the Back Door Cover sports podcast, 2017 Masters attendee, bigger and more loyal Rockets, Astros and Texans fan than you, cheese enchilada aficionado, and nap god.

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