I love teaching brand new yoga students.
There’s nothing like your first time to something, and most brand new yoga students always come to me saying “I’m not that flexible and have no idea what I am doing.”
And in that instant, I light up.
I respond “Well, all you gotta’ do is practice listening to your body—the poses are tools to take care of your body, so just make sure you move gently enough to feel the pose, and make sure that you are using this time to help your body, and not hurt yourself.”
To that I get a look of relief, a smile, and sometimes, a slightly confused look, like I’m not going to force them to touch their toes.
Yup, that’s right—all you need to do to make it through class alive is practice listening—to yourself.
But of course, it makes sense that people walk into a yoga class a little intimidated, as if they have entered a bootcamp for flexibility and wild contortions. I mean after all, isn’t this what the cover of the yoga magazines and billboards of yoga studios are showing us? How often do you see a tight a person advertised for a yoga pose?
What about somebody overweight…or over the age of 45?
Yoga advertising has bought into mainstream advertising, and so it’s no wonder that there are heaps of stereotyping around yoga: that you have to be beautiful, hip, fit and flexible to even start it.
So it’s a miracle when people who don’t fit that stereotype give it a try. And I love when they come to my class—it makes me really zoom in on what this practice is all about.
Isn’t yoga the art of listening to your body? Isn’t yoga the art of living a more fulfilling life? How the hell are you going to feel fulfilled if you can’t love and accept your own body?
Isn’t yoga here to teach us to embrace who we are, and take care of ourselves exactly where we are in this moment of our life, today.
Is it not okay to just be where we are and let this be okay?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t strive to get my heel further out in pigeon pose—I just do pigeon pose because it feels like such a gift to release the tension in my sore butt and hip.
And I certainly don’t care how long you can do an arm-stand or headstand, an eight angle, or 200 angle pose, because really, this practice is so personal; how can we compare to anyone else?
Isn’t yoga an internal practice? Isn’t yoga about learning to listen to ourselves and be in the moment and practice presence?
Since when has yoga become this competition that’s propagated through the media and mainstream channels as a beauty competition, a spiritual competition and how many words of Sanskrit you can understand?
Oh my, I swear, I love when newcomers come to my class, because I just hope they finally get the message:
Come as you are. You are perfect as you are. Do the pose so that you can enjoy and appreciate all that your body does for you, and maybe for just a moment, you can forget all the shit about yoga that’s being fed through the floodgates of mainstream marketing. Maybe you can just take this precious time from your day and practice gratitude, acceptance, and a little more inner love.
Tova Payne is a Life Empowerment Coach. She is an expert in all elements of health—from nutrition, yoga, meditation, and living with more passion and purpose. She writes, speaks, and coaches others to live their best lives through living healthy lives in body, mind, and spirit. This year she will be releasing a ground-breaking inspiring book on nutrition that makes the mind-body-spirit connection. For a free guide to empowered living, and updates, sign up with Tova at www.tovapayne.com
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Ed: Bryonie Wise