Is yoga trendy right now? With the rise in popularity of mindfulness, mediation apps, and companies like Lululemon and Outdoor Voices, yoga can feel pretty mainstream. My roommate happens to be a licensed yoga instructor who favors the more traditional aspects and is often irritated by the common practice now days of removing the more spiritual aspects of yoga in favor of using it as a trendy workout. I tend to just nod in agreement, shuddering to think what she might say to me if she knew my past history with yoga and my utter dislike of the word “chakra.”
I started going to yoga off and on when I was in high school. My mom, sister, and I would go to an evening class at the 24 hour gym that had opened in our small town. I feel like that description makes it sound like we went more often than we did. I was 15/16 at the time and bought a Nike yoga kit (mat, bag, blocks, and belt) that I still use today. I mostly remember the class being athletic based. I signed up for an equally athletic-based yoga class for a couple terms in college. While I enjoyed going to yoga, I wasn’t really getting anything out of it and my focus was primarily on being impressively flexible. These yoga classes left me feeling neither relaxed nor like I had finished a suitable workout. At this time in my life, I’d also taken up running to an obsessive degree, which may have influenced my ideas on what does and doesn’t count as a workout. When I was 21, a friend invited me to a 6 a.m. yoga class with her (off campus, at the first actual yoga studio I ever went to). It was Bikram, which I knew nothing about at the time, and she failed to warn me that the room is heated to a balmy 108 degrees. It was tough. It felt like an endurance sport. It left me feeling sweaty and sore. I was hooked!
Bikram yoga became my thing. I started going to the 90 minute hot yoga sessions 4-5 times a week (on top of running long distance 5-7 days a week). It was an amazing workout. I felt fit and like I’d finally discovered the appeal of yoga. I loved that it felt like a tough workout out and snubbed my nose at regular yoga classes. (This was pre-Bikram scandal, btw. Over the past year or so Bikram, the man behind the yoga practice, has had a series of lawsuits for sexual misconduct.) When I moved to Portland after graduating college, I used a free week with a roommate to try the Bikram studio by us. The studio location and class times were inconvenient and the monthly passes were just too expensive for me to justify on my non-existent intern’s salary. I fell out of the practice. A year or so later, I started doing searches on other studios, determined to get back into yoga. I tried a few free classes at studios before settling on one in the industrial part of town with a view. I liked the classes there in general. It wasn’t crazy difficult and I didn’t feel the same drive as I did at Bikram in college. They would talk a lot more about the spiritual stuff: “Opening your chakras” and “setting intentions” and chanting—things that felt impossible for me to do without rolling my eyes. Was it so much to ask for a workout without someone telling me what to do with my chakras? I pretty much only dropped into class on beautiful summer days when I had time but hardly could consider myself a yogi anymore.
In the years since then, I filled my time with things like running more competitively, Thai boxing, and uprooting my entire life to move to China, only to move back a year later. The immense amount of ups and downs that entailed, the culture shock followed by the reversed culture shock, and a slightly difficult year of finding myself and reestablishing my professional career took a tole. I started turning to yoga again this past August, right after I started my 100 day sober project. I would use YouTube videos and Yoga apps to do about 15-20 minutes of yoga after my run and another 5 minute evening practice before bed. I found myself suddenly drawn to establishing an evening routine with it. Something that would help me relax and sleep. I toyed with the idea of doing some free weeks of yoga at studios around town but was hesitant—mellow classes with “oms” and “chakra” chit chat didn’t sound appealing. That’s when the idea of going to CorePower Yoga started to take hold.
If I was going to talk about yoga with someone, it was usually my yogi roommate. But I kept my desire to join CorePower Yoga from her since it’s pretty much everything she hates about the cultural appropriation of yoga. It’s a mainstream chain with studios all over the states (including Hawaii, where I first took notice of it during a little mini beach vacation on O’ahu). They have class option that combine core and weight work into yoga, hens the name. It appeared to be more athletic-based. Everything about it kind of screamed “I’m a basic white girl going to yoga in my Lululemon yoga pants.” As much as I hate to admit it…. that’s so me! Only I don’t own Lululemon yoga pants (or any yoga pants) and always go to yoga in my running gear. I finally got over my fear of my roommate’s judgment of me and signed up for the free week. That’s how I discovered what has become one of my favorite self-care habits: Candle light, hot fusion yoga classes. It’s a late night yoga class, with candles, indie music, and the room is heated! A 60 minute hot yoga class that combined posed and elements I missed having from Bikram with a more mellow atmosphere and poses that I love but aren’t included in a Bikram class (hello downward facing dog). I loved it as instantly as I loved Bikram in college (it has the added benefit of not being connected to Bikram, so I can do yoga in a heated room without feeling like I’m supporting the sexual misconduct of a suspect yogi).
The class has something else with it that I didn’t expect—Intention. While I’ve yet to hear the work “chakra” used in class, we talk a lot about setting out intentions and why we come to the mat. Older (and with a fair more stress and emotional shiz I’ve needed to work on) than I was at 21, suddenly the concept of mindfulness, focusing on intention, and the meditative aspects of what is a physically demanding yoga class, has been exactly what I needed in life. It’s become a reset at the end of my day. A way to let things go and work towards being the mindful, relaxed (and physically fit) person I want to be. Does doing all that from a chain yoga studio kind of make me feel totally basic? Definitely, but hey, maybe that’s just who I am and if it’s a super positive thing in my life, does the fact that it makes me basic really matter?
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.