“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity. Words cannot convey the value of yoga, it has to be experienced.” – BKS Iyengar
I had gotten to class a little early last night… Around me were several people I have been practicing with for years. The guy behind me could do all the arm balances. The girl next to me could hold dolphin plank for several minutes, and the older gentleman to my right spent half the time in child’s pose but always came and took from the practice what he could and what he needed.
We had just started class and a new student I had not seen before arrived late. The only space available was in the middle of the tightly packed room, and there was barely time for him to lay out his mat, much less to prepare mentally for the session. Physically, he looked athletic, but I felt that he was struggling as we moved through the asanas. The teacher made some suggestions on modifications to his poses and he kept pushing through. I could sense his frustration, but to his credit, at least he didn’t get up and walk out.
He was courageous enough to stay through the class, but made a quick exit afterwards. Knowing the transformative possibilities of yoga, I wanted to grab him, even shake him, while telling him to wake up and smell the coffee, but he slipped out, and in a moment was gone. I wondered what was his story. I wondered if he would ever try yoga again.
This was not the first time I had seen this happen. It happened all the time. New students enter the studio and are soon intimidated as what they thought would be a relaxing, calming, stretching practice, quickly turns into something else. At times it seems the more athletic they are the more likely they are to be frustrated and never return. I want to tell them to be patient, to give it time, and to see the possibilities.
So, here are some things to remember when you start your yoga journey…
It’s probably harder that you think.
This is by far the most common statement I hear from those new to the practice. Many will say that yoga is the hardest thing they have ever done, and many have been active in sports all their lives. Yoga tends to use the whole body, more so then in any other activity.
Yoga is a mind-body practice and as we progress we foster the developement of that integral connection. While releasing the mind the body is strengthened and opened through a series of postures called asanas. The important thing here is to honor the body and start where you are and not to push yourself too hard. Sometimes the more athletic we are, the less flexible we can be. Remember, developing flexibility combined with strength and stamina takes time. It is just now, after 10 years, that I am beginning to move into some of the advanced poses.
Your teacher is your guide.
Yoga is about energy. Just as in any other classroom setting, the teacher is a vital component. I can say for sure that I would not be where I am today without having incredible teachers with whom I connected deeply. There are many different styles of yoga in the west, and many different styles of teachers to go along with them. Find someone you trust to guide you. It’s your journey, but your teacher will be the conduit to help you along the way. If you start in a class and the style or flow of the class you attended really isn’t for you, give it some time and keep exploring until you find one that is. Whom you choose as your teacher, your Guru, will impact your practice and progress greatly.
Yoga is about connecting with yourself.
Yoga releases the creative potential of life. It does this by establishing a structure for self-realization, by showing how you can progress along the journey, and over time opening to a sacred vision of the ultimate. I know now that when I am on my mat I am actually meditating. I may as well be in an ashram. But it was certainly not this way when I started my practice. Over time the light that yoga sheds on life is something special. It is transformative. It does not change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.
If you practice regularly and genuinely yoga will change your life.
Yogic transformation commences as soon as you begin to practice, in major ways and in subtle ways, and the effects are cumulative over a lifetime. At first yoga will increase your flexibility, as your body opens over time, it will become your meditation… Yoga is healing… Yoga slows the aging process… Yoga improves your immunity… Yoga improves your ability to concentrate and to multitask throughout the day without feeling overwhelmed… Yoga strengthens the body, the mind, the spirit, and allows those who practice to face life with a sense of peace and resiliency.
What we must remember is that it isn’t about being “good” at yoga. It isn’t about achieving some highly contorted body posture. Yoga is not a game, it is not a sport. Yoga is not about the destination, it is about the journey… the mental, physical and spiritual journey.
I am filled with gratitude for my teacher, for the support of my spouse, and for my practice and what yoga has shown me about myself, about life, about being able to live fully. It is my sincere hope that you experience the same transformation on your own journey.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self” – The Bhagavad Gita
I’ve dropped into several yoga classes over the years and never stuck with one. I’m very flexible but not very strong so I can’t hold poses, and I’m the naturally competitive type so I feel pressure to be able to hold as long as everyone else and feel like I’ve failed when I can’t…maybe I should try some one-on-one lessons to start out with?
Gaining strength is actually easier then gaining flexibility. So if you’re already quite flexible then strength will build in increments. When I first started I could barely hold plank for 30 seconds. Now I can stay in plank with a clam mind for several minutes at a time. I would recommend that you find one teacher/style of yoga that you like and stick with it for a while. The teacher will tend to do things in a progressive and similar manner in each class so you can really work on your strength through the same asanas… Find someone you like and someone you can connect with on a more spiritual level. Also, every time I feel I need help with or can’t break through a pose, or a variation, I do a one-on-one with my teacher. I see a big difference when I go back to the mat in the classroom. Good luck and keep at it; once you see what yoga can do for your body and your mind you will never want to let it go.