Last Saturday I tried a new yoga class described as "All levels".

I was apprehensive when I saw the other attendees, gym whippets carrying 0-2% body fat. The teacher arrived, spoke a brief phrase and I could just tell: yoga martinet.

For the next hour, time stood still. I shot bullets of sweat in a 30-foot radius, trying to haul my ample, 61 year old body through an extremely active practice. The teacher came to my mat at the end to ask "How are you?" and I managed to say, Fine. I wanted to say, Please say goodbye to my family for me.

(If you wonder why I didn't leave, walking out of a yoga class is tantamount to disrobing and retching simultaneously. I did pray to pass out.)

I thought longingly of my usual teacher, Sheila, who encourages middle-aged bodies toward strength and flexibility. There's considerable challenge, but no competition or judgment.

I limped out of Saturday's class filled with recrimination for not being able to do it. It's ironic that the winter Olympics (Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger) were playing in the club's lobby; I lack the drive and discipline any one of these athletes has in her baby toe.

When asked to perform over my physical capabilities and I can't keep up, I'm disappointed, sometimes frustrated, but not ashamed. I'm not in the right class.

I hope more teachers (of any physical discipline) make space for women like me in their classes: no longer able to push as hard, but as interested as ever in staying active.

Those are the ones I'll return to for years.


Susan B said…
So sorry you had this experience, but now that yoga has gone mainstream, I think there's often a more macho, competitive element to it.

This same thing happened to me a few years back. "Oh, yes, our classes are for ALL levels," the receptionist assured me when I told her I'd never had any previous instruction in yoga. It was definitely NOT for all levels (they didn't even give *anything* in the way of instruction, just a rapid progression from position to position for 90 minutes). It was very intense with all of the guys in there grunting, not how I'd pictured yoga. I gave them a piece of my mind on the way out.

Haven't taken a yoga class since. Maybe I should try Tai Chi.
Anonymous said…
Deja Pseu is right. Now that yoga is "in" there often are too many classes that are "all levels" and too many macho teachers.

I've taken yoga, on and off, since the mid 90s and there were always gentle, beginner, intermediate and advanced classes with a number of yoga styles. Yoga should never be about competition.

Because of some neck problems I now take a gentle class. Before I started out, I splashed out and paid for a private class and made sure they were aware of my issues and could alter postures to accomodate my neck injury.

I hope both you and Deja both try to find a better yoga class!

mette said…
I attended a Pilates class a few years ago. It was popular at the time, and I thought that I needed ( still need ) some other kind of activity than just doing the stable work, which is much lifting and using your arms and back. I admit that I didn´t `get´it ( Pilates ) at all. I got bored and started to watch the teacher and her body instead. Maybe she was in her fifties or so , but her buttocks really caught my eye. They looked abnormally tight and round. I just stared at her. Something about her was not just right. That was my first and last Pilates class. This winter has really hit us, it is snowing once again. Maybe I will just have a series of massages one of these days.
That is not how Yoga is supposed to be (in my experience)...it is all about individuality, listening to your body and not going beyond, working through the poses in a non competitive manner. I practice Hatha and it is a challenge in that one holds the poses longer as one's own body gets stronger, the personal factor that no instructor can tell you about...my studio rates the classes Gentle, moderate and intense...but really the intense class is just a more flowing class where they link up all the poses in a continual moving process...I prefer to hold my poses and then recline on the mat for a breath now and again!
I do hope that you find a class that you love because it is such a great form of strength training for gracious gals like us!
Anne At Large said…
That is a shame. My yoga teacher is also a martinet but she is aware of people's strengths and weaknesses (and injuries) and gives a lot of alternatives for the harder postures (if "this" is too much, do it "this" way instead) and makes very clear that there is no competition involved and this is our class to do at our own speed. I like to challenge myself but there is no way I could hold a lot of those poses as long as so many people do.

So basically, I think you should try yoga somewhere else. It's not all competitive and obnoxious, there are some very good and understanding teachers out there.
Frugal Scholar said…
Reading this brought back all my anxieties from gym class! I was always the worst.
materfamilias said…
If you feel that way, with all your yoga experience, I can only imagine how "newbies," no matter how fit, must feel in that class. My daughter told me the other day that a friend of hers, a long-time yoga devotee, had switched to Pilates just because she had got tired of a competitiveness that she sees taking over yoga, at least as practised in Vanc'r. So much depends on the instructor -- I've been doing Pilates (on the Reformer machine, not Mat Pilates) for seven years now, and I feel quite blessed that my instructor tailors what we do to our capabilities, even within the same class (never more than 8, generally 6 or 7, in a class, so she can manage to individualize).
I've been thinking of supplementing my regime with a weekly yoga class, but I'm a bit apprehensive for exactly the reason you sketch here. Still, the benefits seem worth persevering for -- and as we boomers age, there are likely to be more and more classes at our level, right?
Nancy K said…
I found yoga last fall and wonderful teachers who are all about encouraging us and stressing that it is not a competition, but about listening to your body and finding your center. I have taken beginner classes with them and a general class where they tailored the poses to the different levels of the students in the class. I am 59 and never an athlete. I have found that yoga makes me feel better and at our age, isn't that what we want?
Duchesse said…
All: I do have a yoga teacher I love and have studied with for five years. She is the opposite of this experience, I was trying other classes as she does not teach every day. I have practiced for over 35 years, for the past 12, very regularly.

I have also had extensive instruction in Pilates, Fendenkrais, T'ai chi, dance- pretty much all the movement disciplines except martial arts. At going on 62, yoga is best for my body and mind.

So I encourage anyone to begin, if interested in yoga; the right level and a noncompetitive atmosphere is essential. My usual studio offers yoga for absolute beginners, which anyone beginning should take, rather than try to 'follow along'.

metscan: About that butt, I don't know! But Pilates instructors tend to have very toned bodies :)
LPC said…
Oh Duchesse, I am on a yoga journey too. Starting again after years. I used to be a very fit person. Now I am not. I do A LOT of deep breathing, just to still my mind and let me do the best I can and let me feel that is good enough. At the end of the class everyone clapped for my handstand against a wall. Which only made me feel worse - I mean, did they think I couldn't even do that? Aaargh. Good lessons, great for the body, will continue apace.
Mardel said…
So sorry you had this experience. And you are practiced as well. I've been wanting to try yoga again, but I know that there is much I will never be able to do. Although there are more yoga studios around there seem to be fewer that are willing to work with students who have issues or trouble, and fewer who are aware of what is required as well. I don't think I would take a class without talking to the instructor first, and when I did pilates I did private instruction for a while with a very good instructor due to the same issues (my back was fused for scoliosis when I was 16). I need the stretching and strenthening though so I will continue the (cautious) search.
Duchesse said…
mardel: I am as picky about instruction as I about anyone applying hands-on bodywork. Have had some challenging yoga classes but with the right teacher, felt safe. With this one, didn't.

That health club just does not care, and caters to people in the competitive-athlete mind set. The teacher arrives 1 min. after scheduled start, not available to talk. Yoga studios are usually more attuned to safety.
Dawn in CA said…
Hello, First time posting here but read your blog always.

I've had a lot of experience attending yoga classes off and on over the years. It very much seems to me that many classes at the "gym" tend to be more like exercise, whereas yoga studios tend to be more about the principles and practice of yoga -- and all its flavors. I believe the certification needed to teach at a gym is much different than what is needed for true yoga certification.

The bar is pretty low for instructors at gyms.

I'm not saying that's always the case, but that pretty common.

At least here in California, you get what you pay for when it comes to quality instructors. The general class at the gym, that comes with my membership, is a far cry from the instruction at a studio where one pays per session.

Anyway, just wanted to put that out there so people aren't intimidated to try yoga. I think it is one of the best exercises to keep us strong and stable as we age. And once you get some experience, you don't ever have to pay for a class again....
Duchesse said…
Dawn: Thanks, I agree. Here, fitness instructors can take a weekend course at the Y and call themselves yoga teachers. Appreciate you encouraging others.

Do you know the site Yoga Today? A lot of very good classes to download for home practice, some free and others by subscription.
Tiffany said…
I agree with many other commenters about the competitive nature of some yoga classes. Unable to find a good class recently (long story), I'm actually now indulging myself with one private class a week with my favourite teacher. She is fierce, but the only person I'm competing with is me ...
Duchesse said…
tiffany: Bet you get more from that focused private than several group classes, good for you.
Anjela's Day said…
Duchesse, I have missed reading your blog. Long story.

I know exactly how you feel. I think you did so well just showing up! Though I know you have loads of experience....so knowing that, this is an aside.

I used to have a personal trainer and was fit enough (so I thought) and after each session during the cool down, pull out phase there I was in a room filled with pro and semi-pro athletes. It was the best place in town and I felt its reputation was excellent but my body was in no shape for that type of self-imposed brutality. My head would be buzzing at the end of the work out- going from machine to machine. Later on it was amazing to be strong and feel energized by it but at the beginning it was sheer folly on my part .....My friend whose boyfriend at that time was Bikram of Bikram Yoga asked me to do a yoga class with him and honestly I just wanted to throw up- Hot,hot places with people sweating in my face lol .....so now I just do an online yoga and enjoy it and when I can do a one on one I do that and she tells me where I can improve.
Duchesse said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duchesse said…
Anjela: So happy to hear from you! Was wondering where you were. "Self-imposed brutality" is the apt description.

Bikram plays beautifully to those who have a competitive, "no pain no gain" North American mentality. They even want to promote competitive pose-a-thons!
diverchic said…
There is a lot of activity calling itself yoga these days which isn't really hatha yoga. (Trade mark not intended.) The original purpose of hatha yoga was to do enough stuff with the body to get it's complaints out of the way when you meditate. A lot of that was about developing awareness and learning how to relax and be strong. The yogis never saw hatha, (which includes the breath and diet, cleases and all the other things we properly do to manage the body) as an end in itself.
Good for you for exploring other styles!
Duchesse said…
diverchic: For most North American practitioners, their practice will be only the hatha arm of yoga. Many in the yoga-teacher community disapprove of what one of my (wonderful) teachers called "yoga gymnastics". And so many minimally trained teachers.

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