On the list of things my girlfriend likes to do, yoga falls below Swiffering her kitchen floor and above listening to me explain “Game of Thrones.” It’s not an activity she gets overly excited about. Kate (her alias, since she only agreed to this experiment if I kept her anonymous) has tried yoga a few times and recognizes the physical benefits. However, she is a science-minded person who looks at the world through analytical lenses. When the yoga classes she’s taken have turned philosophical, she thinks it’s a little too hippy woo-woo.
Having practiced yoga for more than 10 years, I was optimistic that with the right combination of style, studio and teacher, I could find something she actually liked. Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t expecting us to become a couple that goes to partner yoga retreats, I just wanted her to get a glimpse of what I love about the practice.
“It will be like a science experiment. There is a hypothesis and we are going to test it by changing some of the variables,” I told her, trying to sell it in a way that appealed to her.
“Oh please,” she said, calling me on my bullshit (as she does so well). After steady persistence, she finally relented and agreed to my terms: one week, six classes, honest feedback, and no pressure.
“Are there questions I should be thinking about during class? Is there an outline for the article or is it intentional to keep me in the dark?” Kate asked. I told her the only thing she needed to do was show up.
Class 1: Hot Yoga
“I want to be invisible in class.”
I chose this first class in order to ease Kate into our experiment. It was active and led by a playful teacher who added small bursts of yogic insight to her instruction. As we drove to class, Kate informed me of a rule: I could not roll my mat out next to hers. She told me she didn’t want me watching her. And, she said, she had no desire to watch me. It was her way of remaining anonymous.
I still watched her through the front wall mirror. About 30 minutes into the class, I saw her holding Dancer Pose confidently. A few minutes later, she moved easily into a tricky bind. I wasn’t surprised; Kate is strong and flexible. Plus, at weddings, she’s been known to pull out Side Crow on the dance floor, a move she calls “breakdancing.”
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Class 2: Restorative Yoga
“If I only have an hour to workout, I’m not going to a class like this.”
I knew the next class would make Kate uneasy. It was slow and led by an eccentric instructor who uses phrases like “unleashing the fire from your soul.” I also knew the studio, decorated with prayer flags and a giant Buddha, would cause Kate to cringe.
Constant motion is Kate’s preferred state and when she was forced to sit and listen to the instructor talk about growing into our true nature, I could feel her discomfort. We moved in long, silent stretches of holding poses, and I caught a “why-did-you-bring-me-here” glance as she struggled to remain still with her thoughts. So I did what any guy would do and avoided further eye contact.
When the class was over, she left quickly. “All I could think about was how many dirty faces had been on the bolster I used,” she said. I considered the class a failed attempt. But when we talked the next day, she mentioned that her hips felt more open, which surprised her in a good way. She also said that during a long moment of silence, she began to listen to her heartbeat. It was loud and she thought about the mechanics of her heart pumping blood through her body. “I had this feeling of being alive,” she said.
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Class 3: Hatha Yoga
“I like the challenge of balancing and I like when I can do it.”
Our next class was in a small studio tucked into the corner of a strip mall. When Kate arrived, she smiled and unrolled her mat next to me (violating her previous “I need space” rule). The class focused on the mechanics of each pose as we moved through a series of deep stretches, which I knew was going to be more up Kate’s alley.
Note to self (and to others trying to get their significant other to like yoga): Choose your classes wisely, give your partner space, and a little reward afterward helps (I treated Kate to a healthy, ready-to-go meal from Whole Foods).
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Class 4: Power Yoga
“I sweated and my muscles felt like they got a workout.”
I scheduled our next class at a fitness-based studio that reinforced yoga as exercise. Through my side glances, it seemed like Kate was retreating inside herself as we moved through the fast-paced flow. Later, she told me that she was zoning in on parts of her body holding tension and trying to release it. It seemed like she was starting to embrace the connection between the physical and mental in yoga. Was her shell of resistance was starting to crack?
During the class, the instructor talked about quieting the chatter in our minds and not getting fixated on trying to understand the “why” of everything. Perfect, I thought, this speaks directly to her. When I asked Kate if what the instructor said resonated, she replied, “I wasn’t listening.”
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Class 5: Level 2 Vinyasa
“I will gladly give up my spot to somebody else.”
Kate’s friend Meghan suggested we spend Friday night at her place and then go to a Saturday morning class at a popular studio. When we arrived at Meghan’s, we were greeted with a glass of wine, which turned into a few more glasses with dinner, which led to opening another bottle.
The next morning was a little rough. Not surprisingly, Kate tried to negotiate her way out of class, but Meghan and I laid on the peer pressure and convinced her to go. The moment we walked into the overcrowded class, I feared Kate was going to kill me.
About 15 minutes in, the instructor noticed Kate slipping on her new mat. He came over to help, but she suddenly lost her grip and belly-flopped. She left the class under the notion of getting another mat and never returned. Meghan and I stayed until the end and found Kate sleeping in the back seat of the car. She was quiet the rest of the morning and simmered in a mix of being angry, embarrassed, and hungover. I thought for sure that any progress I’d made had been lost.
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Class 6: All-Levels Flow
“This is the first class where I understood the pattern of breathing with certain poses.”
Kate recovered from the previous day, but I sensed that she was ready for this experiment to be over. I opted to take her to a vinyasa flow class at a smaller studio that marketed itself as a “healing sanctuary.” I hoped this was true.
The instructor launched into a lengthy pre-class dharma chat about deities, mothers, and chakras, which was followed by singing and chanting. I instantly regretted my decision to come here. Then, things shifted as we picked up the pace. I glanced over at Kate and she appeared fine and in-tune with the teacher’s verbal cues. Seeing this allowed me to let go of my negative thoughts and sink into my own practice.
When we walked out to leave, Kate said she liked the instructor’s comment about being okay with where you were in your practice in each moment. Kate seemed calm, comfortable and happy.
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Results and Conclusion
Did this experience change Kate’s attitude toward yoga? Maybe a little. She said she liked how she felt after a vigorous class and talked about integrating it into her exercise routine.
But I’ve started to re-think what I was trying to accomplish with this experiment. The whole week, I’d been so worried about Kate’s experience that I was never fully present myself. I couldn’t control her experience and I didn’t need to push her down a path that was based on what I thought was right. My yoga is not her yoga. Kate will find what is right and resonates for her. She always does.
We will probably do yoga together again—though something tells me we will never be one of those couples who hold hands during Savasana. And that’s okay. I am just grateful that she showed up because that in itself is enough.
See also Is Yoga Enough to Keep You Fit?