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My First Yoga Class (a.k.a. “The Longest 90 Minutes of My Life”)

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

April 27, 2006 -- I will forever remember my first class. What a disaster!

Snowboarding season had come to a close, and my friends and I were looking for something to do together weekly. Val suggested yoga and the rest of just kind of nodded yes, not knowing a thing about the practice. So we showed up at Rama Lotus on a Tuesday evening and signed up for a Bikram class. This was 30 minutes or so after my dinner: a foot-long submarine sandwich. I’ll get to that in a bit…

We fill out our contact sheet, we each rent a mat and someone points us to the Hot Room. The first thing that hit me as I entered the Hot Room was the heat (yeah, I know—go figure.) “Holy f*ck, why am I sweating already?” I ask myself. The second thing I remember is how full the room was—full of very fit people wearing form-fitting yoga things! “Holy f*ck, why am I sweating so much?” I ask myself again (and again and again). The room is so full that I set my mat in the only spot I could find—in the front row, next to the teacher's stage, with a mirror in my face. The mirror is filled with the beautiful crowd in the background and my mildly panicking, sweaty self in the foreground. I notice that the studio door is about 5 metres away, handy information should an escape need to be actioned. Did I mention I’m sweating already? I never thought to bring a towel or water.

The class starts and all hell breaks loose inside me. My mind is going off in all directions: “what are we doing?”, “how am I supposed to do that?”, “wow, these yogis are nice to look at”, “I can’t breathe”, “did I leave the oven on at home”, “when will this end?”, “I’m so thirsty”, “touch my toes? really?” My mind goes off in a thousand directions while my body protests the weird moves that the practice is asking of it—what a mindf*ck! And now I really start to sweat.

Ten minutes into the practice, my submarine decides it wants to come up to the surface. So I’m now fighting the urge to vomit, as my mind and body are pushing back against my stupid decision to agree to this yoga thing. What the hell was I thinking?

As the apocalypse unleashes inside me, I once again gauge the distance between my mat and the door, which now looks like it’s 50 metres away. No suave, undetected escape is possible for me now. I'm doomed. All I can see are the beautiful, graceful (and somehow dry) yogis in the mirror who, I imagine, can all read my mind and sense the panic inside me. If I step out that door, I think to myself, I will look weak and these yogis will surely tell their friends, who will tell their other friends, and so on, and so on. At. This point, in my mind, my life is basically ruined. Only 75 minutes left in the practice, soldier…

I somehow mustered the willpower to make it through the class with the submarine still inside me. That first 90-minute yoga experience felt like 5 hours and I was not a happy yogi at the end. It was a terrible experience for me, but it is one that I will never forget. The terribleness of the experience was not the teacher’s fault (who was absolutely lovely, by the way). It was 100% on me. I hadn’t prepared for it and I let my ego get in the way of appreciating a new experience. A simple online search would have given me an idea what to expect. Had I done my homework before showing up I would have known to hydrate during the day, to not eat 90 minutes or more before the class, to relax during the practice, and to check my ego at the door.

Though it was an awful experience, there was something to this yoga thing. I didn't feel judged. In fact, I felt welcome.

We went back to Rama Lotus the next week, this time better prepared, and it made a world of difference. From then on, yoga was something we all looked forward to.

All these years later, I can safely report that yoga is a great practice that it has exposed me to wonderful people and amazing experiences. Yoga is central to my life and will be until I Om out of this body. When I feel challenged (on my mat or off), I often think about that first class and the difference between that newbie and the yogi I am today.

Stéphane Ippersiel leading Parliament Hill Yoga, Ottawa, 18 June 2014.  Photo by Doug Rowland.
Stéphane leading Parliament Hill Yoga, 18 June 2014. Photo: Doug Rowland.

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