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Ryan practices a style of yoga called Ashtanga, so that's what we did during our session. "There are hundreds of different styles of yoga," she told me. "You just have to find what works for you."
She gravitated toward Ashtanga, in part, because of its discipline. (The practice asks you to attend a session six days a week; Saturdays, full moons and new moons are days of rest.)
"I like that it's kind of humbling — it makes you look at yourself, and it's not something you can easily flirt with," Ryan said. "It's a style that asks you to be equally strong and flexible. I think some people might argue that it requires too much exertion, but for me it's the perfect balance."
Ryan gave me a little background about the lineage and history of Ashtanga, but she didn't push the spirituality aspect of yoga too hard. I asked her if she thought it possible for somebody who doesn't buy into the mystical-spiritual side of yoga to get a lot out of it. "Absolutely," she said, "anyone can benefit from linking movement and breath. That's what's so wonderful about yoga, that you can take it however deep you want to take it and make your own relationship with it."
I'm still a little unclear on how easy Ryan took it on me. Afterward, she said I had "good body awareness," but I'm pretty sure she was just being polite. More than a few times, she demonstrated fairly simple-looking poses that I nevertheless struggled to re-create with my own limbs and torso. Imagine sitting next to somebody who draws a rectangle on a sheet of paper and asks you to do the same. Now imagine that you respond by drawing a squiggly triangle. That's about what I was doing half the time.
Still, even though I sweated through my shirt — and beads ran down my face and splattered onto the borrowed yoga mat — Ashtanga seemed like an activity I could get reasonably better at with a little perseverance. Only once, during a forward fold, did I feel like I might tip over and pass out. You will not faint in front of this woman, I repeated to myself. You will not faint in front of this woman. So I did at least find a mantra.
At the end of a yoga session, you lie on the mat on your back, in silence, for five minutes, spacing out, letting your mind wander. "Some people really struggle with this part — the sitting still and being silent," Ryan said. At that, at least, I was an old pro.