I first practised yoga on a surfing holiday in Bali in 2008 but it was after spending more than two weeks at a yoga centre in Goa in late 2011 that I started to describe myself as a yogini. Since then, my practice has slowly deepened but has no means been consistent, at least in terms of being on the mat. Starting that journey has changed my life and has changed who I am.
So I thought that the start of my month of daily practice would be the perfect opportunity to reflect on what I have learnt, and am still learning, through yoga.
It’s a yoga practice not a performance
Despite what Instagram would have you believe, yoga is ultimately a very personal experience. You don’t do it to show off, to be able to do gymnastics or party tricks. It’s hard work! It’s about challenging your body and your mind every time you get on the mat. The Ashtanga Yoga Guru, Sri Pattabhi Jois, famously said “yoga is 99 percent practice and one percent theory”. Your yoga practice is never going to be perfect but just keep showing up, keep practising, and it will get easier. Maybe one day, you’ll be able to touch your toes, maybe you won’t, but at least you tried.
Yoga is not a competition
It’s really easy to compare yourself to other people in a yoga class. I went on a retreat in Ibiza once and one of the other people there was a dancer; this guy was so incredibly flexible and, although he had never done yoga before, he could effortlessly move into all of the poses. I was so jealous! So I worked hard; I treated the 3 hour daily sessions as a workout and I pushed and I pushed myself. By day 3, I could barely walk!! So I was forced to actual pay attention to what my body could do. Lesson learnt – don’t compare yourself to other people, or even to yourself.
You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga
Some people are naturally bendy. I am not one of them. But with practice, I am slowly, slowly, slowly, improving my flexibility. But that’s kind of not the point. Yoga isn’t just about stretching or holding postures; it’s about that moment of peace when you are fully living in the moment and you don’t need to be able wrap your leg around the back of your head to do that. I heard about a yoga teacher once who had been paralysed in an accident and had started yoga to improve what mobility he had; he eventually became a teacher and, despite having never actually done any of the postures he taught, he was able to guide his students with his voice and help them find what they were looking for. That’s yoga.
Yoga (aka life) is a journey
As a society, I think we have become obsessed with doing everything perfectly, all of the time – a completely unattainable ideal! I am totally guilty of beating myself up for not achieving perfection 100% of the time. But the constant message of all my yoga teachers has been that there is no such thing as perfection in yoga; as soon as you’ve mastered one posture, there is another or a different variation to challenge yourself with. Yoga is a journey, one which you will never reach the end of. It’s not even a linear journey but more of a case of one step forward, two back, and maybe a couple sideways as well. So stop trying to be perfect and enjoy the ride!
It just is
It’s really hard to explain this (I’ve re-written this paragraph about half a dozen times already!). Nothing is fundamentally, intrinsically, good or bad; what you see as good or bad are your perceptions, your reactions to a person, an experience or a situation. As soon as you realise that, you realise you’re in control, you can decide how you react to something. It’s not easy but it is incredibly empowering. So don’t waste time trying to change someone else; change your reaction and accept the situation for what it is. Everything, in the end, is temporary so relax and enjoy it for what it is: it’s either a great experience now or will be a great story later!
The challenge so far
The last few days have reminded me of many of these lessons, especially after a rather inauspicious start to my challenge! Getting up at 6am to practise on the first day of October, when it was cold and wet and dark outside was not a lot of fun; I really had to force myself out of bed, into my yoga clothes and onto the mat. There was no profound moment but at least I did it! It’s not really been getting any easier, especially in the mornings, but I did have a lovely session of restorative yoga on Thursday evening, which really helped me let go of what had been a long and stressful day.
I’ve noticed this week that I have tendency to say “I should get up and do my yoga practice”, loading myself with expectation. So instead, I’m trying to listen, with compassion, to what my body is trying to tell me and say “I want”, “I will” or “I am”.
The other thing I have been struggling with this week is turning off the narrator in my head! Because I know I want to blog about it later, my mind is constantly examining what I’m doing and ‘writing’ about it – it’s really rather annoying when you’re trying to focus on your breath! But I surprised myself yesterday during meditation when I was able to sit easily and focus for the full time, so maybe I’m starting to get there.
So that’s me and yoga. Over the next few weeks, I thought I would share some thoughts about the benefits of self-practice and how to start practising on your own and, following some questions from a friend, maybe a guide to some basic yoga terms – are there words you hear around yoga that you don’t understand? Let me know and please feel free to share your own experiences with yoga.
Until next time, namaste.