July 17, 2014

But I Can’t Even Touch My Toes: Reasons Why We Should Still Try Yoga. ~ Brianna Wilkins

Carlos Wittenstein

“I’d love to do yoga, but I can’t even touch my toes.”

“I’d like to try it, I just don’t want to look stupid!”

We understand. We also hear that a lot. Like, a lot.

So here’s the deal—you’re in the majority.

We have all struggled getting onto the mat (most of us still do) and I guarantee that you’re not the first newbie to walk into that class.

To the newest student in the class, to the parent who wants to get back into shape, to the athlete looking for more flexibility, to the stressed-out employee looking for respite: we yoga teachers welcome you!

We are a loving breed.

We entered this profession because of our love for yoga, the physical movement, the spiritual practice and more importantly—the amazing community: the kula.

My practice began in a “big box” gym with a community of newbie yogis in 2005.

I had no idea what any pose name meant—I only caught some sort of asana at the end of each pose. I craned my neck under my arm, or through my legs, and around the other students to see what I was supposed to do.

Too intimidated to join a studio, I stayed put. I loved this practice.

With my bare feet on the floor and the focus on my breath, I felt released from my previous restrictions in sports. I was a softball player and a runner experiencing the freedom of a physical practice that not only allowed me the freedom from embarrassing tan-lines and bulky equipment, but also from the emotional stress I put on myself the moment I began a workout.

Here’s the thing: our culture’s perception of yoga is finally changing.

Many people still believe that yogis are all just a bunch of kale-munching, tree hugging, “OM”-ers. While many of us are, we are also a wide variety of people who come to our mats for different reasons.

In yoga, we recognize that we are all one, we occupy the same space; we are not separate.

Yet this powerful practice teaches us how to humbly look inside to ourselves and see what is there to see. We work to become casual observers of our own behaviors, we look to understand what it is that makes us, us.

We are at times confused and inflexible. Stubborn and raw. We can be inadvertently cruel, and show sides of ourselves we’d rather not see.

Yoga is a practice that welcomes and draws forth all characteristics of humanness.

Blending together as a community our hurt, our love, our joys and pain through one collective asana and synched breath. Moving about the energy within our bodies, we recognize our life-force, our humanity. The richness and depth of each pose mirrors the intimacy with which our bodies interact within ourselves.

It’s important to note that yoga is not solely reserved for the flexible meditator, the Buddha on the hill. It’s made for human beings, for us innately-messy, creatures.

As an athlete, I struggle with flexibility. Each class, I work to open up just a little bit more. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’ll never be the poster child for hanumanasana (splits) and I’ll likely always hate pinchamayurasana. I’ll keep trying, though, and that’s just the point. We’re not perfect, but we try our best.

As a teacher, my focus is on making my students feel good. I want my students to move their bodies with their breath and within that, find some moments of peace, clarity, strength and confidence.

I want them to know how to find that space and crave it enough to seek it out on their own.

I’m not worried about how high they can kick their leg, or how far outstretched their arm can be—it’s a physical practice that is so intensely personal that no one person can decide what’s right that day except each individual practitioner. It’s not of interest to me to judge you. I am there to support you and motivate you to grow.

A teacher’s role is not just to make your abs swimsuit-ready (though we all know yoga can help with that along the way), it’s to help open your heart and your mind to the incredible spaces I know it can go.

The work that my teachers, and the teachers before them, carried into my world. Don’t worry if you don’t know the Sanskrit, we will teach you. Don’t worry about the poses, they’re only gestures, your body will learn. Your body’s movement is a tool to move energy.

So when you do come to class, thank yourself for trying something new, praise your body for moving where your mind asked it to go.

Your body is going to hurt in new ways, but it also going to open in new ways.

Try not think about others’ opinions, they are not meant for you. Just step onto your mat and be open to the newness of it all.

Your teachers, your body and your soul, want you there. As some of my favorite teachers have said to me: “Just get on your mat and the rest will follow.”


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Apprentice Editor: Carrie Marzo / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Carlos Wittenstein / Pixoto 

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