October 10, 2012

An Open Letter to Beginner Yoga Students Everywhere.

Dear friend:

I know. Trying anything new can be scary. Voluntarily placing yourself in a room full of people wearing spandex clothing and moving and breathing together can be terrifying, overwhelming and daunting. Please try to set aside your fears. This could be the beginning of great shift in your life.

You may think that you’re too inflexible or too weak to practice yoga.

Don’t worry; we all have our moments of rigidity and weakness (physically and emotionally). Start where you are. Let yourself work from the ground up, and allow yourself the possibility to be so amazed at what your body and your breath can do. All the messy stuff is part of the experience—necessary curriculum, if you will. Sweating it out in plank for a strong core, trying not to be reactive during five minute pigeon holds in the pursuit of open hips; these are required for the beautiful and elegant expression of the poses that look the fanciest, but are only acquired through effortful and conscious work.

Once we have all the pieces, then the puzzle naturally comes together, but with any component missing, the final product will never be cohesive. Make the gathering of the pieces a joyful journey.

None of us are above practice. That’s why it’s called practice: there is always so much more to be learned. In fact, the most challenging aspect of yoga isn’t about opening up the body; it’s about opening up the mind. The more that we can adapt a beginner’s mind, a willingness to start from ground zero—the more that we can receive. Just imagine all the possibilities that would open up to you if you let go of all the ideas and misconceptions you hold around what you like and what you don’t like, what you can or cannot do.

You may fear that you won’t know what you’re doing: where do you place your mat? How do you sign up? What’s proper yoga studio etiquette?

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Every one of us goes through moments where we don’t know what the heck is going on, and every expert at anything was once a beginner, too.

Don’t know where to place your mat? At one point or another, we all struggle with where to find our place, whether it’s in the practice room, in our professional careers, or even in the grand scheme of things. If you don’t know how to sign up, or how to behave in the studio, don’t be afraid to ask for help. In the end, experience is the best teacher, and sooner or later, we will all find exactly where it is we need to be.

You may have convinced yourself that you don’t have the right clothes, or the right mat, or even the right gender or age to be a yogi.

Despite what you may have been led to believe, yoga isn’t really about what you’re wearing or what brand of mat you own. Yoga practice is simply about the beautiful, breath-by-breath experience of being present inside your body. It doesn’t matter if you’re clad head-to-toe in designer yoga wear, or wearing a ragged t-shirt and shorts. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a $100 mat in a luxury studio or if you’re on a towel in your living room. Male, female, young, old, thin, curvy, wealthy, poor—these are all more boundaries that we put up to distinguish ourselves from the experience of being human, when the goal of practice is always to unify and simply be.

People come together in class not only to practice physical poses, but also to acknowledge the divine in all of us. When we move and breathe together, we are moving and breathing not only in service of our selves, but also in service of something greater: humanity. We recognize that we share more commonalities than we do differences; that really, despite our age, gender, sexual orientation, belief system, or economic status, it’s all about just being good, kind, happy people.

You might say you don’t have enough time.

If you think something is important, you’ll make time for it. How often do we neglect our own wants to serve the wants of others? We overwork, oversocialize, overthink. Instead of allowing ourselves some time away to collect our thoughts and refresh, we burn out.

Yet, consistently depriving ourselves of what we want isn’t doing a service to others, either. We all need to start believing that we are worth getting what we want, even if it’s 15 minutes on the mat during a hectic day. If we don’t treat ourselves with compassion, generosity and respect, how can we expect others to do the same?

Not playing small means reaching toward our highest potential in every way possible. Finding balance means equating our own wants with what we want for everyone else—to be happy, to be healthy, to be free.

You may think that yoga just isn’t for you.

Getting into yoga can be a bit like dating: sometimes you hit it off with the first style or teacher you meet, and sometimes you don’t. But there are so many amazing teachers out there to learn from, and there are so many styles of yoga to try. If you enjoy a physical challenge, there’s Vinyasa Flow. If you like routine and structure, there’s Ashtanga and Bikram. If you’re an anatomy junkie, there’s Iyengar. If you prefer a gentler style, there’s Hatha and Restorative. The list goes on and on.

Yoga is not just physical exercise, nor is it a weight-loss program. Yoga is not only for flexible people or for women. Yoga is not a religion, or a cult, or a fad. Yoga is not a cure-all pill. Adho mukha svanasana is not some sort of incantation that can dissipate your problems with the wave of a magic wand.

Yoga is a catalyst for truth that will tune you into your body’s own innate intelligence. Yoga is a stick of dynamite that will blast away your ideas of who you’ve been, who you are and who you can be and simply leave you gaping in the face of the truth that is your own inner light.

Irrespective of each of our physical strengths and limitations, irrespective of our fears and self-doubts and judgments, we can always do our best to honor the sweetness of every moment in our interactions with our selves and with everyone around us. May your journey leave you challenged, inspired, humbled, and above all, the best possible version of yourself that you can be.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


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