By Matt Halko, BLY student

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Before stepping on the mat I thought of yoga as “girly”. It’s almost embarrassing to say that now but it was easy to make that assumption because most classes I saw were predominantly female and I didn’t have any male friends who regularly practiced. A couple of years ago my girlfriend tried to get me to do it with her but for the most part I was too stubborn to put in any effort and really give it a shot. Having that bias kept me from attending a class or thinking about yoga as a form of exercise (instead of lifting). I believe this “girly” bias keeps most of my demographic (males in their mid twenties) out of the studio and in the gym instead.

It was pure chance that I would find myself on a mat. BLY had just opened their studio in the Chicago Board of Trade and I worked an elevator ride away. Our office signed everyone up through a corporate membership, so my coworker Aseem and I decided to go down and see what it was like.

I didn’t know what to expect, since I didn’t have the slightest understanding of any postures, I began experiencing small bursts of anxiety. I began to think, “Am I going to look like a fool in front of an entire class?” Turns out those thoughts are pretty common. Whenever I try to get someone to come to a class they usually use that as their excuse not to come. I can see why the fear of looking stupid keeps us from having new experiences. No one wants to look dumb. At first it was very hard to keep up during the first class, the instructor moved fluidly, and I certainly did not. It took time to get better, but without going to the first class and I would have never improved.

Working up a sweat at the gym would give me a good feeling, but it was nothing compared to what I would feel that first day in the studio. Yoga classes end with a final relaxation pose, and after this my mind became clear and my body felt energized. I wanted to feel this way everyday. Yoga was just different from other forms of exercise. I kept coming back for that five minutes of clarity at the end of class. I wish I had a better way of explaining this feeling. It’s really something you don’t understand until you feel it, I think with years of practice it could become your default state of mind.

There is no doubt in my mind that yoga has had a huge impact on my life off the mat physically and mentally. In the beginning, I felt subtle physical changes, my body become stronger, and I started to look thinner. After eight or so months I started feeling a shift in my mental awareness. For me the “mental shift” was the biggest reward. My self-confidence started to increase, and I had less emotional highs and lows. I became more accepting of my life and career. I noticed that the stronger my core became, the more confident I was becoming. I have been rather introverted my entire life but over the past six months I now find myself wanting to talk to new people and I’m the one starting the conversation. I can’t explain why yoga has had such a big effect on my mental awareness, but it simply has.

In the first couple of weeks it took a conscious effort to follow the instructor. As time progressed, I had to think less, which made it easier to practice the nuance of each posture. So instead of scrambling to figure out what I was supposed to do, I could focus on linking my breath and my movements, while making small but important adjustments during each pose.

My experience at BLY eventually led me to a personal practice, outside of the studio.  When I’m alone it’s easier to slow down and break apart the sequences. The trade-off is that you don’t have an instructor to show you what you’re doing wrong and teach you new things. Right now I am trying to blend the two so I get the best of both worlds. I’m still new so I’m trying to keep an open mind and learn all the nuances of the body.

Whatever preconceived notions you have a yoga, whether you think it’s “girly” or if you aren’t “flexible,” yoga is about you. Yoga is a personal practice. It’s easy to “feel stupid” when the people around you are standing on their hands and doing triple back flips, or you can’t keep up, but it’s worth trying.

If you don’t understand how to do the pose, ask for help! Everyone at BLY is extremely nice and mindful of everyone’s skill level. What looked impossible six months ago has become everyday yoga. If you never give it a try you won’t learn, so it’s important to get over your own fear. I’m pretty sure I look stupid most of the time wobbling and falling down, but I have gotten over it and accepted it as part of the process.

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