The post is for anyone who is new to yoga, intimidated by yoga, disillusioned by yoga, or uninitiated and curious. Maybe you’re drawn to the idea of carving out more peace in your life, or just wondering what all the fuss is about. Maybe you’ve tried a few yoga classes and felt way out of your depth. Maybe you started looking into it, but felt put off by glossy photos of beautiful young women, or sweaty chiseled men in complex arm balance variations, or contorted into pretzels, and thought, “Well, that’s obviously not for me! How could I ever be good at yoga? I can’t even touch my toes!”
If that sounds familiar, you’ve fallen prey to a common misconception – mistaking the container for the contents. As we are wont to do in our selfie-obsessed culture, sometimes we become dazzled by the beautiful wrapping, and never realize, or simply forget, that the real gift is actually inside. It’s easy to get caught up in the physicality of the practice. You can set your sites on achieving or mastering a certain asana (yoga posture), or reaching some arbitrary goal, and in the striving, misplace yoga’s ultimate benefit…peace of mind. So, if you’re interested in yoga, but feel like it’s out of reach, please consider the following:
· You can’t judge a book by its cover: The Yoga Sutra reminds us that the physical pose is just the vessel. Yoga is what happens inside of it. (PYS 2.47). Picture this: Student A forces herself into an advanced posture, huffing and puffing, sacrificing the integrity of her alignment for the glory of the pose. Meanwhile, Student B reclines in Shavasana (corpse pose) in a state of calm, open curiosity, connected to his breath. By all traditional measures, it is Student B who is “Good at yoga.”
· Comparison is pointless and misguided: Focus on your own practice! You can admire others’ physical prowess, but it is impossible to know how they got there, or to gauge their internal experience. Every body is different. Some people have naturally open hips, or long hamstrings, or the perfect proportions for ease in a particular pose. Maybe their poses are beautiful, but their mind is in chaos. Other people have started out stiffer than you, and then put in years of consistent practice to get where they are today. Some may need modifications and piles of props to approximate the pose they are working towards, but are in love with the journey, free from self-judgment, and learning how to let go.
· You are probably the only person judging you: It can be easy to feel self-conscious in a group class, especially when it seems like everyone is more advanced than you are. But yoga is so very personal, and chances are good that the other students are too focused on their own practices to pay much attention to yours. Group classes are fabulous for the camaraderie and collective energy they create. But if you feel shy or embarrassed as you’re learning the ropes, online classes can be a great option to explore yoga without feeling so exposed.
· Strength and flexibility are not prerequisites for yoga: Nope! They are side effects. There are so many ways to practice, and thousands of known asanas, variations, and modifications. You can start wherever you are, in whatever condition, and through dedication and practice, strength and flexibility will come. The great news for beginners is that when you go from zero to committed, change comes quickly. Initially, your practice will improve by leaps and bounds. As you advance, the path becomes progressively narrower. Refinement gets more and more subtle as you become increasingly intimate with your body. Prepare to fall in love with the details!
· There is no hurry and no destination: Slow and steady wins this race. Hopefully your practice will span the remainder of your lifetime, and bit-by-bit, your body will continue to open and align. Perfection is a myth, and a pose is never mastered. Yoga asanas are not a list of goals to check off. They are living, breathing laboratories for self-exploration. They are ideals to strive for, and endless opportunities for deepening levels of peace. Simple poses are just as valuable as fancy ones.
· The target fades: If you are doing yoga as originally intended, to quiet the turbulence of the mind and reconnect with yourself and your source (PYS 1.2), you will eventually lose the will to label. It is part of the natural progression of the practice for the poles of opposites to lose their pull. (PYS 2.48) Extremes like “good and bad” eventually dissolve. As the mind settles, and the habitual thought patterns unravel, you will start to live in the moment of each experience. You’ll begin to inhabit the poses and connect with them directly, without the filters of judgment and commentary that keep them at a distance. So, by the time your poses progress to the point where your pre-yoga brain might have thought they were “good”, hopefully you’ll be too busy merging with your body and your breath to notice.