Yoga was for movie stars. Growing up in Cebu, yoga always had an exotic, glamorous cache. You could imagine a free spirit like Goldie Hawn or Jane Fonda doing it in an ashram, but it definitely was not something normal people did. Lola or yaya did not do yoga after their siestas. Personally, “yoga” always had the dual qualities of being both repellent and attractive. On the one hand, I associated yoga with being either hippydippy and stoner or for rich housewives with too much time on their hands. Yet, for me, yoga also conjured up positive images of peacefulness, self-awareness, and good living. My conflicted attitude towards yoga is the reason that I waited till I was thirty before I first gave it a go.

A Careful Introduction to Bending

I started tentatively. I was intimidated by all my friends who had suddenly become lithe and bendy women. I am a very unstretchable man, more stout oak than elegant bamboo. And like with most things I am not sure about, I started in my bedroom with a YouTube video.  A lovely, middle aged Dutch woman commanded me to pose while uttering a bunch of Sanskrit words in soothing Northern European tones. Apparently I needed a brick, but I did not have a brick handy in my bedroom (who does?), so I used a big university textbook instead. Despite being very much beginner’s yoga, I found it difficult. A gym goer for years, I had never held my body in these seemingly unnatural positions. The whole exercise only took about seven minutes, but I found it tiring and sometimes torturing.

vinyasaBack in Cebu, a Friend Helps Out

The next day I felt the pain in my abs and glutes much more than any gym workout I had ever had. This was a very good sign to me. It meant I got a proper workout. I was not about to start doing yoga properly though, because I lived in England. Yoga classes were very expensive and overcrowded. But when I moved to Cebu, an old friend who had transformed into a graceful yogini offered me a class as a birthday gift. I jumped at the chance, remembering the benefits I had felt before and forgetting the lack of comfort. Plus, my friend, as an intelligent and trained teacher, could help me with my past problems and I was very comfortable looking silly in front of her. A few of us convened at my house for an afternoon sesh, and my positive approach was easily gratified. While it was tougher than the last time, (it was much longer), I felt amazing afterwards. Sweat poured off me on my open air patio. I could feel the fat melting off, and the normal endorphin buzz you get from any exercise was in full buzz mode. Furthermore, at the end of the exercise, my friend led us in a Shavasana meditation that was very de-stressing. No other exercise I have tried ever made me feel this great.

YogaHub, a Great Place for Those Wanting to Learn

A few months later I decided to try out a studio. With the experience with my friend I knew I could do it, even if ungracefully, and I heard a lot of good things about this particular studio. YogaHub, located in Banilad Town Center, is one of the best known yoga centers in Cebu and is very involved with educating Cebuanos about yoga, reaching out with many events throughout the years. (At the moment, they are in the middle of a 21 Day Yoga Challenge). The studio is also very light and clean, and it feels like a great place to practice yoga. I went to a beginner’s class with the very experienced teacher called Bernadette.

bernadette1Bernadette’s Story: A Stretch for Bernadette

Bernadette started practicing yoga in 2010. Always a very active person, Bernadette would try out every class in her gym: Kickboxing, Zumba, Step. However, she would skip yoga because she thought it was too slow.  Eventually, she gave it a shot since she had tried everything else, believing it would be easy. She was wrong. Yoga challenged her, so she felt she should go back and learn more about it. That was it.  She started going to every class. During that time, there were only two classes a week in her gym, so she started practicing at home as well, thanks to a yoga video she had. After two years, she joined a teacher training course with a YogaWorks teacher from LA in Manila to deepen her practice. She then started teaching a beginner’s class and is now one of Cebu’s most experienced teachers.

Start at the Beginner’s Class

I found the class absolutely amazing. With the beginner’s class, you start on the ground with your mat and work your way towards the standing poses before eventually moving back down towards shavasana and a peaceful meditation. I felt opened up like I did with my friend. It is hard to describe the feeling except as an openness; certainly you feel like you are emitting a healthy aura of peace and awareness.  Again I sweated profusely, which is a great sign for weight loss, and the use of the tools that I had were a great help for stretching me out. I actually found that I could stretch much further this time than my first fumbling attempts at yoga due to practice.

Stretching Does the Body Good

I asked Bernadette why I felt so open and great, and she explained to me what yoga does, “So the simplest way to understand our body is to think of meat. Think of the white stuff surrounding the red meat when you buy it at a supermarket. Our body has that too, tissues called fascia that wrap around our bones and our muscles. When we are kids, we are so open; we are flexible. As time goes, lubrication goes away, so our bodies become tighter. If you don’t stretch out your body, it just stays clogged. But your body is elastic. You need to stretch it once in a while. So you need more lubrication, just like a machine; if you don’t use it, it gets tight, and it breaks. The tighter you are the more prone you are to injuries.” Bernadette assured me I would sleep well that night, and indeed I did.

hot vinyasaDon’t Start with Advanced Classes

Bernadette does have some advice for people who want to start practicing yoga. She suggests going to a beginner’s yoga class with a teacher you like and who can help you out. Don’t try and go straight to the more advanced classes even if you are physically active. Bernadette said, “A lot of people don’t go to beginner’s class because they feel it is slow and boring. They want the fast pace, so they go directly to the vinyasa class, and when they are there, they can’t catch up. They can’t breathe, but they do the pose anyway, without breathing. They lose the connection of the body and the mind.”

Give Up the Body Anxiety

And what about those of us who are body conscious? Myself being a larger gentleman, I was nervous about joining a class of slim and stretchy young people. However, when I was actually there, this anxiety vanished. My awareness shifted to my actual poses and body, and I mostly didn’t even look at anyone else in the room. Bernadette agreed that many people have these feelings, but they quickly get over them. Bernadette reassured me, “You are so absorbed in what you are doing that other people won’t mind you because they are minding their own breathing and poses. Many people have this notion (of others judging them); it is in the culture that people are always thinking about how they look and how people will judge them. I feel like this is the beauty of yoga. It is not judgmental; it is only about your practice. It is YOUR journey towards your toes. I would suggest people let go of those expectations, those assumptions, and just give it a try. Give yoga a chance to work for them.”

Keep Up the Practice and the Progress Follows

I have been to YogaHub again since the first class, and when I went back, I was again substantially more flexible. While I could only reach down to my knees previously, I now can reach down to my shins, and this made me extremely happy. The best part for me is the afterglow of yoga. Call it endorphins, open chakras, or a loosened up fascia, but I just felt happy with myself and with the world. The obvious progress that I could sense every time I went definitely motivates me to make yoga part of my weekly health practice. As Bernadette said, it is a journey to my toes, and so far, I must say it has been a joyful trip.

*Photo from Yogahub Facebook page.


Stefan Garcia

Many of us need to make that journey to our toes. As the saying goes, “It’s not the destination that matters but the journey.” Even if that means sweating and stretching the heck out of your bod. Have a healthy summer folks! 

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