When my favorite yoga instructor left New York City for Los Angeles, I was crushed. Lauren Taus had been my weekly savior who led me through an athletic vinyasa that burned out my muscles and relaxed my mind. After trying out her substitute instructors and missing her flows too much, I fell completely out of touch with my yoga mat, leaving it curled up in the corner of my room. I didn’t take a child’s pose for months.
But when a flight left me with uncomfortably tight hips and knots in my back, I knew the time had come to try to get back to my regular flow. Ambitiously, I challenged myself to take a yoga class every day for 30 days straight. Perhaps I was hoping to make up for lost time, but I was so eager to get that relaxing, refreshed feeling back from the classes I took with Lauren.
I forged ahead with my plan without really thinking it through. And three days in, after an instructor’s breathing lesson felt more meditative than yogic, I realized this was going to be impossible for me. After all, I enjoyed yoga because it was a release, not a forced thing. I called Lauren for advice.
“What differentiates yoga from many other types of exercise and fitness is that the practice is very much internal. It’s as much a work in as much as it’s a work out,” she says. “If you can’t do the 30 days, it’s, like, okay, so what? What if you do 12 days as opposed to zero?”
So I switched up my challenge. The new goal? Find a yoga class or studio or instructor that gave me the euphoric feeling of actually wanting to find myself at the top of my mat. I learned soon that, just like no warrior one pose is ever going to feel the same in two yoga classes, neither will a flow with two different instructors. I’d never get exactly the same feeling from a new instructor as I did with Lauren, and that was okay. What felt exciting about this new challenge was finding new ways to make myself crave yoga again. This challenge, I knew, would be doable.
I bounced around a few different places, trying yoga at gyms, in parks, on rooftops, even in breweries. But I found my haven and inspiration in a new form: music. Y7 yoga, which has studios in New York and California, provides heated, hip-hop music yoga classes in a dark, candlelit space. The flows are actually super different from anything I’d done before, too. Instead of one continuous sequence, it’s three different sequences done in three different ways. First, the instructor goes through a short sequence breaking down each movement before leading us through it again doing one breath per movement. Lastly, each yogi does the sequence to his or her own pace, adding or removing moves or taking a longer time to hold each pose. It’s during this third sequence that the music is turned up and the instructor welcomes everyone to make the practice their own. “Dance if you feel like it,” one instructor told me. After all, with Rihanna playing to your flow, how can you not want to dance?
It was here, in the dark, focusing as little on the instructor and as much on my practice, that I found my yogi self again. I returned to my practice, waking up at 6 a.m. on the regular to get to the studio. Instead of mourning the loss of my favorite instructor (I did find her yoga classes on YouTube for when I need my fix!), I focus on my actual practice and what I can make of it. And I feel so much better for it, like my practice is a practice, something I have to work on and pay close attention to.
Plus, I also learned not to push myself with fitness challenges that aren’t a fit for me. Our workout routines are as much mental as they are physical, and any binding rules can just make it easier to look at each class as a chore. It was easier said than done to find myself eager to hit the mat again. That was the real challenge.