April 13, 2022
New to yoga? Returning to your practice after some time away? We all come to yoga for different reasons. This is my love letter to you.
I remember stepping foot into the first yoga class that really stuck with me. I had practiced yoga a handful of times at local gyms before, but in 2013 decided to take a class at one of the biggest studios in Boston at the time. I was dealing with knee pain from years of running on the treadmill, and most likely not strengthening other parts of my body. My brother, a personal trainer at the time, recommended I try out yoga. I was 22 years young and considered myself pretty healthy – how hard could yoga be?
Practicing yoga in a studio felt like being in a different world. The teacher was naming poses in Sanskrit which I had never heard of. Students were practicing handstands at the front of the room. Yoga apparel is a thing? Child’s pose was my best friend in this class which knocked my young ego to the ground. Despite feeling like I blacked out during most of class, I left feeling the happiest I had felt in awhile. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t do many of the poses or that I was lost most of class. I didn’t know much of what had just happened, but I knew the practice made me feel good. Yoga was unfamiliar, and yet I felt at home, and a deepened sense of connection to myself that I didn’t even know had been missing.
Yoga is truly unlike any other practice. In many fitness classes I hear instructions such as “keep pushing yourself,” or “you will feel dead after class,” as if that’s a good thing. In the yoga studio I learned how to listen to my body, and to make the choice for myself on when to go a little further, and when to rest. I would leave class feeling strong and open in my body, and both grounded and energized – far from dead. Modern day culture tells us that it’s important to constantly get better at something, and yoga teaches us to find ease, a sense of curiosity, and even joy, in each moment as it it. I learned to challenge myself on the mat and step outside of my comfort zone, but in the back of my mind new that the way I practiced and paid attention to the little voice in my head was just, if not more important than any pose. Yoga was different than any sport or musical instrument I ever played. No one told me I had to reach any goal or get to any level in the practice. The zero pressure and non-judgmental aspect of the practice allowed me to build a safe relationship with it, and ultimately with myself.
If you are new to yoga, returning to your mat after some time away, or just going through a rough patch with the practice, know that you are not alone. Having a yoga practice is like being in a relationship. There will be ups and downs, days you enjoy the practice and days you feel unmotivated, days you feel like you are progressing and days you will feel stuck. The good news is that yoga allows us to step on the mat exactly as we are, learning to breathe into each moment as it is without feeling the need to run from it or change it.
We all come to yoga for different reasons. Maybe you are looking to get stronger, more flexible, build community with like minded people, or to relax more. With consistent practice these benefits of yoga will arise naturally. However, the way you practice is more important that what you practice. Mastering a pose will not make your life better if you are stressed out during your practice, comparing, judging yourself, or pushing past your limit. Maybe you get so strong in your practice you can do arm balances and inversions. Does this matter if you are stressed out, feeling depleted, or putting yourself down throughout the practice? Not so much. I always like to remind students, an advanced yoga practice is one in which you feel stable, you can breathe in a pose for several breaths, and you are able to notice your thoughts without attaching yourself to them.
When you begin telling people you practice yoga they will probably think of crazy poses, people meditating, or drinking juice. Yoga comes from the Vedic time period and is a school of psychology. Yoga translates to union. The poses are part of it, and can be used to deepen our awareness, get to know ourselves better, live in our bodies feeling strong and open, and make the best choices for ourselves on and off the mat. Practicing yoga at any level means to be in a relationship with an ancient practice that deepens the connection to the Self – our true selves, not who we think we should be.
At the heart of yoga, we must practice with an open mind, listen and feel more, and think less. Whether you have been practicing 10 seconds or 10 years, it is in our favor to step onto the mat each time with a beginners mind – a fresh perspective, open mind, sense of curiosity, and willingness to change.
No matter your background or experience level, yoga welcomes you exactly as you are. If this ancient practice has somehow trickled into your life it means you are ready, even if it doesn’t feel like it, to get to know yourself better. This takes courage and discipline and that should be celebrated. The more we practice on the mat, the more we start to practice off the mat. You will start to use your yoga practice when you are stuck in traffic, at a family gathering, or when pouring your morning coffee or tea. We always have the ability to pause, wake up to what’s present, and breathe into each moment as it is.
I would love to hear how you got into yoga and where you are at in your practice. Let me know in the comments or send me a message!