New Year’s Resolutions Actualized: 13 Days A Yogi

Sweating, stretching and deep breathing to the sounds of Kendrick Lamar, Bruno Mars, Sia and more helped one editor set the focus for 2018.

When the last seconds of 2017 were shaving off the clock, I was comfortably curled up beside my parents in their king sized bed watching Mariah Carey and thousands of trembling bodies on the TV screen. My younger sister, groggy after I shook her awake to watch the ball drop, stood in the doorway. Six or so hours into the new year, my family of four would board a Miami-bound flight to drop my sister off for college, so I opted to stay in the house with them and bring in 2018 in the least fanciful way possible. No parties, no confetti, no bubbly, no lofty expectations for a new year.

My “resolutions,” if you could even call them that, took on the same sort of simplicity. I made a quiet, internal promise to myself to pay attention to the energies around me, trust my gut, chase my wildest dreams, love myself louder and be well mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

While several items on that list have started manifesting in my life (and it’s only been a month), I looked to yoga—specifically CorePower Yoga (which has over 175 studios in the United States)— to help me kick off that last intention. In no way was I an experienced yogi before stepping into this journey, but over the course of five weeks and 13 classes, I learned to listen to my body, find strength in physical discomfort, challenge myself to really focus and just breathe. And, of course, I kept a diary of most of my unfiltered thoughts throughout the process.

WEEK 1:

Classes Taken: Yoga Sculpt, CorePower 2

I knew that embarking on two to three yoga classes for a month straight was going to be intense (but rewarding) from day one. I decided to walk in swinging with my first class, Yoga Sculpt. Apparently, so did my monthly flow. Sculpt is high energy class, combining CorePower’s traditional Vinyasa flows with added weights, cardio and strength-training movements in a room heated to 90-93 degrees. I had taken a handful of yoga classes in the past, but wasn’t familiar with any terminology beyond Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), so I had to catch whatever my peers were doing as the teacher called out commands. Taking the class while my uterus was on level 10 was no easy feat, but I was able to get through it by focusing on the music pouring out of the speakers. Honestly, everything feels better when listening to Bruno Mars’ “Finesse (Remix)” with Cardi B, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Sia’s “Unstoppable” and a healthy mix of workout-appropriate Top 40 cuts. By the end of the hour, I felt like an Olympian: achy, battered, weak and wobbly, but triumphant. I had made it.

For my second class two days later, I swapped out the weights and jumping in lieu of a little more tranquility and a little more heat in CorePower 2. I was still “flowing,” so that had its own discomforts, but other than nearly drowning in my own pool of sweat (I later learned to bring a bigger towel), I got my bearing a little bit as far as names of postures. I tried getting into the breathing to distract from the fumbling. My balance isn’t what it used to be back in my dancer days, but I was determined to get it back. It was a little frustrating to watch more experienced yogis do all sorts of poses I couldn’t do, like headstands and other inversions, while I hung out in the modified posture, but that only made me want to work harder. But cool observation: This yoga class was the only first time in life I’d ever worked out in only a sports bra. My little rolls and I blended right on in with the class without any judgment from my peers.

I feel so accomplished after the third day’s practice. (Look at me saying “practice”!) Since it was a Friday night, the ambience was much calmer than the previous days. That, and it was pouring, so the class felt less packed and much more patient. I had the space and room to try to make my breath the center of the exercise. A person or two broke out into headstands and crow poses when we were allowed to do inversions (or just maintain the original pose like I did), but, again, it made me deeply desire to get to that level; to do each kind of inversion at least once in life. The yogi even called out my name to say good job holding my side plank pose (Vasisthasana). I could also see my improvement at identifying terminology and anticipating the flow. When class ended and we’d already said Namaste and collected our belongings in the dimness, I stole a moment in crow pose (Bakasana). Not too shabby, but I have my goals.

WEEK 2:

Classes Taken: CorePower 1, Yoga Sculpt

I wound up starting off my week with CorePower 1 purely by accident, but I’m happy I went. I was originally scheduled for Yoga Sculpt, eager to make up for how much the first class wore me out, but thanks to New York City weekend transit, I was late and the class got too full for me to get into. The next open class was C1, the most beginner class CorePower offers. I really wanted to break a serious sweat and challenge myself, but it was worth it to slow down and master the basics of the yoga poses, as they aren’t broken down at all in the upper level classes I’d been taken. Sitting in those poses still made water trickle from my pores in the unheated room, so my body worked and told me to relax myself. There are days for sweat and days for strength, both mental and physical. That day was for the latter.

My introduction to CorePower Yoga had taken place primarily in Williamsburg location, but I decided to give their Upper West Side location a try as well, just for variety’s sake. The sweat left pouring out my skin was about the same as the last Sculpt class. I was still shaky and had to skirt on some exercises due to muscle fatigue, but I had much more control over my body this time around. Visible improvement. The playlist skewed more pop and dance, which was different, but the second I heard Britney Spears on “Womanizer” and Will.i.am’s “Scream & Shout,” I got such a surge of focus and energy. I couldn’t help but squat to the beat with my heaviest set of weights (8 lbs) or pulse my legs from the ground during the floor exercises. God bless the people who love the burn of exercise because, whoo, it nearly took me out. But my recovery afterwards was more seamless and I felt ready for another tortuous class (next week, of course).

WEEK 3:

Classes Taken: CorePower 2, Yoga Sculpt, CoreRestore

The sixth class was a particularly strong one for me. Tegan, a teacher at the Williamsburg location, had a tangible energy and her cheerful encouragement really pushed me to flow through each movement with an ease I’d never expected of myself before. My breath was on point, and I wasn’t lagging behind or falling over or anything. Her C2 class, set to the most zen playlist, was the most challenging of all that I’ve taken—a.k.a. I was waiting for the tricks. I got to try Airplane Pose (Dekasana), made my way into a crouched Eagle Pose (Garudasana), and Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana). Then came the full Monty: headstands (Sirsasana). Only about two or three of the 15-person class had done handstands before, so we were on similar beginning points for the most part. Slowly and clearly, she guided us through the steps of forming a headstand, even if we wouldn’t be able to make it there that night, we knew the natural progression, from the forearm placement and tucked pinkies, to the Downward Dog paired with lowered forehead, to the curled up ball to the full extension. Watching her break it down that way, then getting to a rickety downward dog myself, gave me the confidence that I could definitely get to a headstand sooner than I thought. That, and that I think I really want to commit to yoga long term.

CoreRestore, an evening class, was a total different wavelength from all the previous days of class. Instead of consistently going through Vinyasa flows, we instead practiced Pranayama, the art of breathing. The entire intention of the length of class was to cleanse the body of energies that didn’t need to be there through different breathing techniques and subtle poses that helped facilitate them. It went beyond just open mouthed and Ujjayi breaths, also called “the ocean breath.” I’m glad I was able to preface this class with the other ones, that way I could take a more serious, focused and nonjudgmental approach to the session. Our teacher, Dustin, was extremely attentive to us, and strived to really teach what everything meant and what was supposed to be happening in the body. After class, he even broke down the tree of Yoga, basically explaining the seven stages of the practice, broke down what happens in effective meditation, and encouraged me to embrace and acknowledge the discomfort I feel in my extended One-Legged Pigeon Pose (Utthita Eka Pada Kapotasana). It will be a challenge I can focus my energy to overcome.

Flowing into the weekend like… 🙌 #weekendvibes #igyoga #synchronized

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WEEK 4:

Classes Taken: Yoga Sculpt, Hot Power Fusion, CorePower 2

I started off my week with a Scupt class that, again, kicked my a**. Ultimately, I learned that while I like weight work, I don’t think my body is a fan of when I do it sans sneakers in yoga poses. Great sweat flow, though.

I walked into Hot Power Fusion the next day, the hottest level class (98-100 degrees) I’d tried at CorePower feeling apprehensive and nervous, and left feeling so powerful. I forced a flurry of intimidation into my mind that didn’t need to be there. When the instructor asked us to do certain poses, I did the super modified versions of them out of the expectation that, “of course I couldn’t do the higher level version. Why try?” From my back corner of the room, I scolded myself. Why are you falling over? Why don’t you have balance today? You danced for so many years, even though you’re not flexible, you have great balance and sense of core. Stop shortchanging yourself! And can you believe that I went on ahead and hoisted my leg out there in Dancer’s Pose (Natarajasana), felt the stretch and held it there, all while balancing on a block? Once I freed that doubt in my mind, the pre-doubt, I flourished (by my own personal standards). Of course some people were so much deeper into the postures than I was, but I knew my time would eventually come. I already felt the improvement in my Pigeon Pose when the teacher gently helped adjust my body. (I’m a fan of CorePower’s hands-on assistance.) This was one of the most eye-opening classes for me, hands down. And I didn’t sweat myself to death, which was another major fear.

Abbe, who was my first teacher at CorePower, focused the next C2 class on balancing and inversions. (I love when they dive into specialties.) I actually was in the front row (not by choice, only spot left) but I was able to hold my own and not feel unworthy of being up there. I could follow the movements and commands, and was focused on accomplishing my movements without feeling compelled to closely follow the person in front of me. I flowed by myself and for myself. If anything, I’d eye previous teachers peppered in the crowd or experienced yogis just to catch the more advanced version of a posture for reference. My One-Legged Tadasana got so much stronger from the last class, and I was even more eager to master the supported headstand variations she showed us. She even offered to help me practice the headstand if I hang back after the next class, so naturally I rebooked into her next available Wednesday class. I was more determined than ever to walk out of that room a head-standing woman.

The music for my next C2 class was especially impressive. As I nearly slipped on my own sweat and breathed into my poses, I heard everything from Syd tha Kyd to dreamy Drake covers to “All The Stars” and “Pray For Me,” two of the new songs from Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther The Album. As I got deeper into my postures to the cadence, we focused on measure, alignment and back stretching. It was a simple, straightforward class but extra packed, extra hot and extra humid. I had to really fight for my focus through it all.

WEEK 5:

Classes Taken: CorePower 2

My twelfth class, another C2, was the first time I’ve ever been super early to a class and had time to kill around before getting down to the nitty-gritty. I’m not going to lie; my entire body had been sore and achy by that point. While I’d been training my body to become overwhelmingly more active the entire year prior, working out three times a week was a rarity. It would be two spaced out weekdays of cardio/weights/HIIT, but yoga, with the exception of one day I was invited to a Brooklyn Nets game and decided to go for it, has fully taken over my Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and some weekends). I know some people practice yoga every day, but being constantly stretched and sweaty changed my body and I felt every ache of it. However, I also feel ease in the postures I originally wanted to cuss off. Chair Pose (Utkatasana), Downward Dog, Chaturanga Dandasana, Airplane Pose, Eagle Pose, Wheel Pose (Chakrasana). For whatever reason, several hours after class had ended and I was showered and ready to go to bed, I had an urge to attempt a supported headstand (on my carpeted floor). Well, in a curled ball pose. Can you believe I squared my arms, braced my head the way they taught us to in class, fearfully kicked up and managed to stay up there in a curled ball until I excitedly had to come down to audibly express my joy? What a nightcap.

I spent my last class of the Core Power Yoga experience with Abbe. She kept true to her word, and after class—after attempting a bevy of balance poses I can be proud of (Standing Hand to Big Toe Pose [Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana], Fallen Warrior Pose, Side Crow Pose [Parsva Bakasana])—she helped me slowly get into a shaky-but-damnit-I-did-it full supported headstand. Mission accomplished.

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CREDIT: Stacy-Ann Ellis

I’m so proud of my body and the long way it has come on this physical (and mental) journey. Will it be a little while before jumping back into yoga? Probably. My body needs a bit of time to not only heal, but miss the sensation of stretching out those kinks. But whenever I am ready to dive back into the practice, will my location of choice be CorePower Yoga? Absolutely.