‘4 Things I Learned During a Single Yoga Class in India’

Writer Joana Lourenço spent some time at a yoga retreat in Jaipur, India. Here are four life lessons she learned in a single yoga class

'4 Things I Learned During a Single Yoga Class in India'

Early one morning last September, I was woken up by a peacock outside my luxury tent at the Oberoi Rajvilas resort in Jaipur, India. You would think that a beautiful bird like the peacock makes an equally-gorgeous sound. You’d be wrong: This peacock honked, repeatedly, like a goose, or a car barreling down an Indian road.

I didn’t have time to chase the bird off my patio. I had a yoga class to attend at 7:30. And I was late. Rushing back into the tent, I pulled on a t-shirt and leggings, and sprinted across the property’s lush green lawns toward the spa.

The class had just started when I approached the gazebo, but the yogi, Das, welcomed me kindly. Dressed in a white cotton kurta and pants, and looking as relaxed as I’ve ever seen anyone, he handed me a mat and a towel. And then’we did yoga. And it was different from the classes I had taken back home in Toronto. Here are some things I learned.

The importance of breath work

The yogi began the class by talking about how breathing exercises are key to good health. He chattered for a while, and I admit that I zoned out once he started going on about ‘purifying the nasal cavity’ and so on. But then he had us do some alternate nostril breathing and exercises where we held our breath in and released it back out. And soon, I felt the stress of the sprint to class melt away. I felt calm and alert.

I was surprised when he mentioned that this kind of breath work can help fight off a cold, and prevent that annoying ear-pop when flying. I vowed then and there to keep it up back home before flu season hits.

It’s okay to push yourself to your limits

After a lengthy breathing session, we launched into some asanas. Das would demonstrate a pose, and then he would come around and pull, push, bend and/or lift us into better position. I knew I was in expert hands, but I still felt a pang of anxiety whenever he came my way to do his adjustments. Sometimes it hurt’during one particularly challenging twist, I yelped like a startled peacock. But as he walked away, and my body returned to a position it could hold, I was left in a deeper pose than before.

And once we were in a position, we held it. For a long time. I’m talking whole minutes here, people. At several points, I thought I would just crumple into myself, like a cow in the sweltering Indian heat. But I held on, for longer than I thought I could. I was feeling pretty darned good about myself.

Accept that it’s a process

Then, while sitting cross-legged, Das asked us to reach one arm over the shoulder and one arm behind the back and clasp our hands together. The tall, blonde, Lycra-clad woman in front of me got into the position effortlessly. I looked over at her and thought about how I’ve never, ever been able to stretch myself into that pose.

Das must have seen my face fall, because he started to talk about self-acceptance and going at one’s own pace. ‘We each do the best we can,’ he said, more than once. After all, what yogis value is lifelong learning and the inner journey. It’s not about judgment.

And I felt a bit silly’beating myself up about not being able to get into a pose wasn’t doing me any good. Luckily, I had lots of time to reflect about this some more during the meditation portion.

Check your ego

We got comfortable, and then we got comfortably silent. It was quieter than it had been at any point during my time in India. I was able to clear my head completely by the time Das instructed us to open our eyes, and ended the class with a smiling ‘Namaste.’

I was determined to hold onto my new feelings of zen. But I admit that goal was challenged when I overheard Das complementing Lycra lady (assuming she must be a regular practitioner), to which she replied ‘Oh, I never do yoga, I’m just naturally flexible.’

I felt a twinge in my chest, that impulse to roll my eyes and respond with snark. But I was feeling good, and more than that, grateful’to be in that beautiful place, to be doing yoga in its birthplace, to be healthy. Even grateful to be woken up by squawking peacocks. So I turned to them, smiled, and, with a ‘Namaste,’ stepped out of the gazebo and into the Rajasthani sunlight.