How Yoga Changed My Life

I'm too (fill in the blank) for yoga. You're not.

I took my first yoga class over 20 years ago. I had started working out at a gym to try and lose some weight before singing at my cousin’s wedding.

The gym and I never got along. I was the kid who never worked out in gym class. I had not made the connection between the food I was eating and the health and shape of my body. I was the unsuccessfully closeted gay kid that had a “gay voice.” After high school I couldn’t touch my toes, and the first time I tried to use an elliptical machine my legs cramped up after one minute and I had to hobble off.

So, not surprisingly, I didn’t enjoy the gym. It was hard; I felt self-conscious, and I was horribly out of shape. That was me.

One day I noticed the yoga class taking place in the aerobics room. It looked fun, and I used to be flexible in school, so I decided to take the next class available. It was WONDERFUL! For the first time I felt like I finally found something physical I could do in a welcoming and safe space.

If you’re not familiar with yoga, it’s a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. Yoga is considered to be a low-impact activity that can provide the same benefits as “any well-designed exercise program, increasing general health and stamina, reducing stress, and improving those conditions brought about by sedentary lifestyles,” according to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine.

Yoga does more than burn calories and tone muscles. It’s a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening and stretching poses with deep breathing and meditation or relaxation.

There are more than 100 different forms of yoga. Some are fastpaced and intense. Others are gentle and relaxing. Examples of different yoga forms include:

  • Hatha: the form most often associated with yoga. It combines a series of basic movements with breathing.
  • Vinyasa: a series of poses that flow smoothly into one another.
  • Power: a faster, higher-intensity practice that builds muscle.
  • Ashtanga: a series of poses, combined with a special breathing technique.
  • Bikram: also known as “hot yoga.” It’s a series of 26 challenging poses performed in a room heated to a high temperature.
  • Iyengar: a type of yoga that uses props like blocks, straps and chairs to help you move your body into the proper alignment.

In my first class, I was far from being able to do the splits or balance on one leg for an extended period time, but I could feel that I was on the path to something healthy that was getting me out to the gym. After a few classes I started to learn the names of the poses and didn’t have to look around as much to find out what we were doing. Eventually I met my first yoga goal — to be able to touch my toes.

Another happy occurrence is all that is after the first year of taking yoga class, I lost almost 70 pounds.

I started branching out and trying other yoga studios. I tried every free yoga class I could find and eventually found that I really enjoyed hot yoga, which takes place under hot and humid conditions. I signed up for an unlimited membership and was there every chance I could get. It was hard, but I always left feeling that I had done something good for my body even if I had not been 100 percent successful in every pose.

Then one day it hit me. I had just completed a work-out at the gym followed by a yoga class, and I found myself in the drive-thru lane on the way home. “Why did I just work out for two hours and now I’m undoing all the good of going to the gym with unhealthy food?”

I started to change my diet, and it changed the rest of my life. I became more confident and outgoing. I started meeting people and going on dates. I finally felt like I had a plan to work through my issues with food and to improve my health permanently. I started to teach yoga classes. While I was still considered overweight, my new challenge was to attend teacher training even if I was the largest person in the group. Everyone in my class had been practicing yoga for a few months and they were far more advanced, but after eight weeks of training while practicing three yoga classes a day, I earned my 500-hour yoga registration.

While training, I lost 25 more pounds, and my yoga classes got turned up to 11. I feel new confidence with the knowledge of the body and the history of yoga. I use this information and experience to shape my classes to be challenging while making people feel successful in their own bodies. After many years of yoga, practice, and learning about myself. I feel like I’ve found my authentic self. This is me.

I’m not perfect; I am still overweight. But I like who I am. I’m no longer afraid of being myself in public or at home. I’ve had a few setbacks and a lot of successes, and I’ve learned from both. I am proud of the changes I have made in my life and how I have used my experiences to benefit my community.

I’m not done yet either. I hope to start a free meet-up class for my fellow LGBT Pittsburgher’s this summer. I think getting people together to do something healthy and fun will help to create a stronger community and may help someone else find who they are.

LA Fitness

Great variety of fitness classes. Ask for Andy at the Robinson or Bridgeville locations. lafitness.com

Yoga on Centre

Great way to start yoga with a focus on proper alignment and form. iyengaryogapittsburgh.org

South Hills Power Yoga

Challenging and fun in a warm setting. southhillspoweryoga.com

Schoolhouse Yoga

Variety of yoga classes including plus-sized and prenatal. schoolhouseyoga.com

Amazing Yoga

Fun classes and also offers community classes at a reduced cost. amazingyoga.net

Andy Fang is an Executive Assistant and 500 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher in the Pittsburgh area. He grew up in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex in Texas. He spends his time as a volunteer and advocate for equal rights. Find him on Twitter @springbored.