After a few years of practicing yoga, I really started to learn more about what it all means.
I took as many forms of classes as I could (here’s lookin’ at you, Acro Yoga and Bhakti Yoga) and read (no, devoured) everything there was to read about this ancient practice. So I read article after article: A New Beginners Guide to Yoga, How to Pick a Yoga Class, The First 6 Months With Yoga, Yoga for Dummies. But, I was no dummy. And I wasn’t exactly a new beginner either.
What I was searching for, what I craved, was to read about that same feeling I was having. I wanted to hear that someone else (or a lot of someone else’s) were feeling the same way I was. Everything I was reading fell short of that goal.
So I turned to my fellow yogis, the people who laid their mat down next to me every day. Here’s what they (and I) have to share with you as you search for more meaning and understanding of what exactly is happening on and off your mat.
1. You will cry. It’s cool, pretty much everyone does. Guys, gals, young, and old. Some just a little and some whole puddles of tears for a week. Go with it—your body is keying in to those hard parts of your life that you shove down. Let them up, let it go. The ones who let the tears flow move through that tough space with more grace.
2. Be careful what you wish for. In my own practice (I practice Mysore style Ashtanga yoga) I am often hoping to be given the next pose in the series by my teacher. A sign of accomplishment of all of the poses before it and the readiness to move on to the next pose. In other styles, you may find yourself on your mat next to the headstand/crow/forearm balance master, wishing you could even imagine nailing those poses. Well, my friend, proceed with caution. Some poses take a lifetime of practice and a keen dedication to studies – are you really ready for it? Once your teacher sees you rocking that crow pose, she’s not going to let you get by without trying it next time.
3. You may have to regress to progress. Yoga is a practice of inner strength and stillness. Injuries happen, tiredness happens, life happens. There will be days when you need to take a step back (think restorative class is just for people who ‘can’t’ do a more vigorous practice?) in order to move forward. Pain and injury often occurs because of old injuries from other things. This practice uncovers those. Sometimes you will feel like the practice isn’t therapeutic because you’re injured, but it is. Step back to step forward.
4. Your social life will shift. When you get up for a pre-dawn daily practice, those calls to meet for drinks at 9pm start to become less enticing. As you practice more and more, your priorities will start to shape-shift and you’ll find yourself inviting your friends to join you on their mats instead of at the bar. Also, your boyfriend will wonder why you want to go to bed at 8:30pm. Don’t worry, you’re starting to do it so often he’s getting used to (and even liking) it—because now he comes to class too.
5. You will be sore. A daily practice makes you more sore than you imagined possible. As Kino MacGregor puts it in The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: “It is no secret that if you do practice six days a week, you will be physically sore…Practicing six days a week accelerates the rate at which you experience the pains that purify weakness and stiffness, as well as the rate at which you experience the purified result of more strength and flexibility in the body and mind.” Keep going.
6. Your life stuff shows up on your mat. Deal with it there. Having trouble balancing in standing poses? Where is balance missing in your life? Is your sexual relationship in trouble? Those hip openers will sure get to you (and cause the previously mentioned tears until you deal with it). Does headstand scare the crap out of you? Hm, you do often shy away from anything that makes you feel upside down. Your mat is the place to address these things so that you can take that new freedom into the rest of your life. Take care of it here and it will be cared for there.
Sri Pattabhi Jois said “Practice, practice, practice and all is coming” and, boy, was he right. As you spend more and more time on your mat, you may feel like an “experienced” yogi—but this is only the beginning, my friend. Yoga is a lifetime of asana, personal lessons, and life all rolled into one beautiful practice. Remember that you are not the first (or last) person to go through what you are going through right now. Reach out to the people on their mats next to you. The collective wisdom of many is always greater than the inner turmoil of one.
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Assistant Ed: Judith Andersson / Ed: Catherine Monkman