The first time I joined a yoga class was at a beach resort in Thailand. A friend of mine was teaching there and invited me to come along. I cannot remember which Asanas we were doing or the face of the person next to me. What I can remember, however is how I laid and stood and bended and stretched on the wooden deck overlooking the calm turquoise pond-ocean.
I remember how I tried to focus on my breathing that always seemed to be out of sync with the teacher’s calm, rhythmic “In-haaaale-and-Exhaaaale’s”. What I remember most though, is the thoughts that kept racing through my mind: ‘Is yoga supposed to be this difficult? I thought it is supposed to relax you?’ ‘Am I doing this right? No, that person in front of me has her/his leg much straighter…much higher… much closer to her/his body.’ ‘I could do this if only my thigh muscles were not so big… if only the fat of my tummy wasn’t in the way… if only my arms were a bit stronger…’ ‘Do I look like I am all spiritual-and-in-touch-with-myself enough?’
Practice makes never perfect
Here is a little secret: We are all still practicing… every single one of us. Yes, I can touch my toes when I do a Forward Bend (Padangusthasana). Yes, I can do Wheel Pose (Chakrasana) with one leg raised to the sky. Also, my King Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) pose looks more like an Awkward Chicken than a King of Pigeons thanks to my big, strong thighs and bum developed over 3 years of working as a scuba dive instructor.
We call it Yoga practice for a reason, you practice, you grow and you build towards improving your body and your mind. The aim of yoga is not to do the poses perfectly, it is to strengthen the bond between your mind, body and soul.
Honour your body… honour your boundaries
So, you cannot hold Plank Pose (Chaturanga) as long as the person next to you. So, you keep falling over during Tree Pose (Eka Pada Pranamaya). That is ok. The vital bit is that you keep going, you keep practicing, most importantly, that you honour and respect what your body is saying to you. Some days you might have plenty energy and strength and you are super flexible, some days less so. And that is OK.
Listen to your body, push a little bit harder when you feel like things are flowing easily, back down when you notice that you are putting a little bit too much strain on yourself and your body. With time you will learn this: “You can hold a pose only as long as you breathe.” (A little gem courtesy of my friend and first yoga teacher).
When you breathe slow, calm, deep Ujjayi breathing you cannot help but to slow down the thoughts that are splashing around in your mind. You become calm and focused and, most of all, you start paying attention to your movements. You focus on how every joint and muscle moves, contracts, stretches, releases and relaxes. You hear when your breath becomes choppy – a cue to you that perhaps you are working too hard – and when it flows deep and slow and comfortably.
Yoga teachers are not gods
Yoga teachers often intimidated me, I still feel a bit nervous and self-conscious when I know that I have another teacher in a class that I am teaching.
Honestly, we are all just humans on our own journey. Sometimes we swear, sometimes we smoke or have a drink or two, sometimes we get irritated and frustrated and lose our tempers, sometimes, Shiva help us, we even forget which leg we need you to move to the front of the mat on the current cycle of Sun Salutations (Suryanamaskar).
We are all, just like you living, breathing, Asana-practicing human beings working towards getting connected to our higher Selves. Mostly, we are happy that you had chosen us to walk a small part of your journey with you, to encourage and inspire. And we thank you for that.
What do you with you knew when you first started practicing yoga? Tell us in the comments.
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