8 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE I STARTED YOGA
WE'VE ALL BEEN THERE...
How many hobbies, sports or exercises have you tried and given up in a matter of days, weeks or months?
There’s a reason a lot of people don’t make it past the beginner stage when they’re trying out something new. It can be uncomfortable. It can be embarrassing. It can be hard work.
When you start you can feel like a total dummy compared to the others around you. It’s like everyone has a secret handbook on what to wear, how to move and what not to do and you’re the only one whose not read it.
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HERE'S HOW IT WENT FOR ME
I would like to paint you a, not so pretty, picture. This picture is of my first yoga class, how little I knew and how unprepared I was.
My first class was not with a slow hatha class but a hot yoga class at an intermediate level. First mistake! The class was up 10 flights of stairs so I was already puffed out by the time I arrived. They asked to bring a towel, I brought a bath towel – this was a mistake! I wore baggy clothes and track pants – also a mistake! I went to the back row to try to hide not realising that there was no back and we would face many directions so I ended up being the front for half the class – rookie mistake! Brought fizzy water – mistake. Ate a big breakfast – mistake! Weirdly with that many mistakes I still fell in love with it.
It’s important for yoga teachers and seasoned yogis to remember the awkward feeling of walking into, or pressing play on, their first yoga class – we ALL started somewhere.
I made many ‘mistakes’ in my first class and my first year of my yoga journey BUT that doesn’t really matter. I was learning and no one, I don’t think, was judging. Sticking to new hobbies, exercise or sport can be MASSIVELY rewarding — they can give us a sense of identity, community, and new skills if we’re willing to commit.
Saying all of this there are a few things that would have made my first few classes easier so if you’re thinking about starting yoga here they are:
1. YOGA ISN'T JUST POSES
Before I started practicing yoga I had no idea how vast and deep the practice was. I really thought it was poses you held for long periods of time to gain flexibility. I then started practicing and became obsessed with achieving the more difficult poses I saw others doing in classes. It took me over a year to start to uncover all the different and wonderful limbs of yoga.
Asana is what the postures and the movements are called in yoga and asana is a tool of yoga. What do I mean by this? Well you have to reframe what you believe yoga is. Yoga isn’t the postures but instead yoga is a state of self realisation and calm.
Therefore the physical postures are one part of the practice of Yoga, as are meditation, pranayama, kirtan, and the yamas and niyamas. We use these tools to observe our minds and get closer to feeling content, at ease and peaceful.
We need to see yoga as more than twisting, jumping and going upside down. Physical movements and postures are one part of yoga, with other important factors including breath, meditation and mindfulness. The incredible thing about yoga is that different parts of the practice will reveal themselves and become more important during the different stages of your life.
When I first started yoga the asana was what I needed (the sweat and the movement to clear my head after a busy day teaching) whereas now pranayama and meditation play more of a crucial role in keeping me calm during the pandemic and uncertainty.
2. HOME PRACTICE IS IMPORTANT
We don’t have the luxury of doing yoga classes at the studio anymore. Many of us have almost completely stopped our yoga practice because we are so accustomed to only doing yoga at a studio. If we had started a home yoga practice alongside our studio classes perhaps our yoga practice would still be going strong.
Why not use this time, today even, to begin a home yoga practice. I really didn’t start a home yoga practice until I started my YTT and it was still scrappy at that. Over the years I have had times in my life where I have a consistent home practice and other times where the mat collects dust.
Why is it important to practice at home too? This is where we really start to develop our own practice and begin to really sit with our yoga. The dedication to showing up on your mat, no matter the overwhelm, no matter how busy, no matter what’s on the telly – this dedication is the harnessing of the control of your mind. This practice is yoga!
3. FLEXIBILITY DOESN'T MATTER
My favourite line to use on people when they tell me they can’t do yoga because they are inflexible is:
‘Saying you’re too inflexible to do yoga is like saying you’re too dirty for a shower’
Sit with that for a minute and if you’ve uttered the inflexible excuse hopefully you’ll reconsider!
One of the most common misconceptions of non-yoga practitioners is that you NEED to be flexible and the only aim of yoga is to develop this. You’ll only ever be ‘good’ at yoga if you can do the splits. This only creates reservations of new yogis and being worried or fixated on their lack of flexibility – perhaps so much so that they don’t ever start to practice because of it.
You are practicing yoga in your body and no one else’s. When you practice asana you are looking to create more space, more comfort and more connection with your body…so there is no need to compare! Whatever your body looks like or moves like that is OKAY! We all have to start somewhere and our destinations are not the same.
Gaining flexibility and mobility is a benefit of yoga but it does not measure how successful or good you are. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. It gets easier and easier as you link more and more your breath to the movement.
Remember that the flexibility you gain is from the starting point of your body. We are all built differently and our bodies carry different stories and experiences.
4. INSTAGRAM YOGA ISN'T YOGA
Feeling like you belong or fit in is hard no matter what age, profession or activities you do. Throw into the mix millions of filtered pictures of specific bodies, images and messages and suddenly you can feel like a complete impostor.
Social media fills in the blanks of our knowledge with a mono-perception that isn’t a true representation of reality. This couldn’t be more true of yoga. There are endless yoga social media accounts and hashtags. Many of these will show body types, strength and movement that, for many, is completely unattainable. It is also damaging to the representation of what yoga REALLY is.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are drowning us with a deluge of perfect yoga images. These are predominantly of young, white, slim and bendy contortionist type women. There is nothing wrong with being young, being white, being slim or exceptionally bendy…the PROBLEM is the lack of balance in what or who we see on social media. This is starting to change but too slowly.
If you can do one thing for me today it is to forget the perfectly lit, incredibly toned, designer lycra wearing, contortionist body posing on a mountain top from instagram when you step into your first yoga class!
5. NOT ALL YOGA IS THE SAME
Imagine a tall strong tree. The trunk is yoga and the network of roots that dig deep into the ground are the different pathways and styles of yoga. Styles like ashtanga, Bikram, hatha, vinyasa, rocket, forest, nidra, yin, gravity, hot yoga and mandala yoga. These are just some of the many styles of yoga, each incorporating different postures and sequences.
I LOVE this about yoga. There is a style of yoga for everyone and as your life and your needs change you can move into the style or practice that suits your needs at that time. For example, Ashtanga yoga is repetitive and features the same postures with a strict focus on alignment- this might really suit those who like routine, regiment and order. Vinyasa Flow is more rhythmic, features music and class poses change – perhaps suited to those who like dance and are looking to gain cardio fitness.
I would highly recommend trying out as many styles as you can and when you find one you love don’t get totally stuck on this, keep variety even if it’s only one different class a week. Each teacher, class and yoga studio you attend will teach slightly differently. This doesn’t mean it is wrong, it just means it is different.
Embrace the perspective and allow yourself to keep judgement and the need to compare off the mat.
6. IT'S OKAY TO USE PROPS OR REST
I DID NOT take advantage of this when I was a beginner and I wish I did!
I was consistently uncomfortable and holding my breath in poses because I couldn’t get into them properly. If I had used blocks or straps I could have got into the postures with more ease and been able to breathe into the pose. I would have made progress more quickly.
Ego often gets in the way of yogi’s using props. The belief that using a prop means the easy way out or that you’re not pushing yourself hard enough is just a load of bullocks! It shows strength and awareness when we understand and respond to what the body needs and would benefit from.
When we are uncomfortable or struggling in a pose it can compromise our alignment, stop us breathing deeply or at all and even cause injury. So make sure you get your hands on a set of blocks and a strap as a starting point. You can get more versatile props as you continue your practice and learn what you need.
If that prop still isn’t making life easier for you TAKE A BREAK! Drink some water, sit down and breathe or plot yourself into a child’s pose. There is no shame in resting and taking breaks. This awareness of your body, what it needs and being brave enough to take breaks is all YOGA!
7. THERE IS NO PERFECT OR COMPLETE IN YOGA
I was obsessed with attaining specific postures and transitions when I started my practice. I raced to look like the others in the yoga classes I attended. It wasn’t until I injured myself and had to completely rejig my yoga practice that I realised there would FOREVER be an ebb and flow in my yoga. It is a circle with no end in sight. Why do you think we call it yoga ‘practice.’
There is no winning, no goals, no perfection and no finish line in yoga. There is no trophy or winner’s circle in yoga, so drop your competitiveness before you get on the mat. As you start to get comfortable and strong in one posture you will have other doors of what to focus on next open and realise that as you achieve one aspect of a pose or class there will always be another around the corner.
Yoga is not a race, not a competition. Each one of us is on our own special, unique journey. Your mat is a magical space, is the place where you work your way towards your True Self. Accepting where you are now on this journey, will make it so much better.
8. YOGA CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE
Yoga was my turning point. It was the catalyst to some of the biggest changes in my life.
- Refusing diet culture
- Enjoying movement
- Change of career
- Control of my emotions
- Connection to my body and my mind
When I went to my first yoga class many years ago I never imagined the extent to which yoga would affect every aspect of my life. What we cultivate and absorb on the mat spreads into all aspects of us. Our mindset begins to change to strengthen and to adapt in a way that affects our habits and our beliefs.
Our awareness is heightened and we no longer move through life without a connection to why we do what we do and the effect of what we do has on others and the planet. Our curiosity is heightened and we begin to pick apart the ways we live our lives. This could be a coffee or wine habit, the food we put in our body, our addiction to technology, the way we interact with those we love or the waste we create.
Without knowing and perhaps without making the connection to your yoga practice your life is changing.
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