May 19, 2015

Confessions of a Not-So-Perfect Yogi.

Sue Clark on Flickr

I shout at my kids although I try not to.

I sometimes rush out of the door half-dressed and put my shoes on in the elevator. I look like a beginner in many yoga poses, and pretty much always have, even when I practiced yoga for 5 hours a day.

I didn’t do much in the way of physical exercise for first 19 years of my life until I found yoga. I never looked good at yoga and this hasn’t changed much. I don’t have a background of dance, gymnastics or martial arts like many of my teacher friends.

However, what yoga has given me, is profound—it has calmed my mind. It made me mentally stronger and physically resilient.

I started teaching as I realised there was a gap between the teachers and students. I wanted stiff students to feel comfortable in my class and not to look at an acrobatic contortions wondering how they were ever going to get there. I don’t want anyone to leave my class because they don’t feel flexible enough. Maybe they will leave because I am not flexible enough, but I’d rather have it that way as there are plenty of super-bendy teachers to meet their needs.

I could always practice more but the reality is, I run three times a week and I practice yoga three times a week. I meditate every day and stretch here and there. I struggle with guilt over this. I should stop running and dedicate more time to my practice, I should wake up at 5:30 a.m. and do 90 minutes of yoga every day before the kids get up. But I never have. I did try stopping running to see if my practice became easier but it didn’t, really. I have been up at 5:30 a.m., but making it stick is something I’ve always struggled with. Mid-morning has always been a better time for me to practice.

But here’s the thing—I am not really a yoga teacher. I am a normal person, sharing what I know and what I know helps me. And that is what I call yoga.

My running is part of my own yoga practice, as it helps me to feel whole. I’ve honestly learned more about my mind from running long-distance than I do from my time on the mat and I try to incorporate these learnings into my practice. I may not look like I do as much yoga as I do but in comparison to how I used to be, I am definitely a “perfect” yogi now.

But to be honest, will I ever be the perfect yogi?

I dream of being like my idol, my children’s god-mother, who floats around sipping hot water in her pristine white flat, herself and child wearing all white (white!). But, so far I’m not there. I’m more likely to be sloshing my green tea, with crumbs in my hair and trying not to dream I am a Kardashian.

Truth be told, my favourite yoga teachers tell me that my stiffness is a blessing. That having struggled with poses will help me to understand the students more. They have shot their hips out from years of sitting deeply in hanumasana, looking like that perfect yogi. Also, I have found that the best yogis do not necessarily make the best teachers.

I am sharing all this because I think that if I have experienced certain doubts, I bet others have also.

My student this morning said she arrived a bag of nerves after she had woken that morning shaking with adrenalin. I taught her legs up the wall pose and she said it had made her week.

I might have the upper body strength of a kitten despite years of practice and play-fighting with my freakishly strong younger sister (who as far as I know has never lifted weights or done a yoga pose in her life). I work on my upper body, yet she is the one with biceps? Yes, I could do more, yes I should probably take up the offer of a free crossfit class, but my yoga practice is about addressing what I need and that is why I love it. A lot of days that is grounding stillness: 30 minutes meditation and some Yin yoga holds.

I want to keep what I have—a fit, active, happy and healthy body. I want to be able to sit on the floor beyond my 60’s. I want to be able to chase a ball. I feel energised from sharing the teachings of yoga, it gives me purpose and justifies me having at least five yoga related tabs open on my computer at any one time. I don’t want to feel like I have to be or appear to be somebody I am not. I don’t really want to start performing acrobatics at 32 and possibly pay the price later in life.

Learning all the different limbs of yoga is beyond fascinating to me. It is my life’s work. My life is based on yogic principles, and I refer to yogic/Buddhist principles to guide my life.

In my first part of a career as a yoga teacher, before my four-year maternity break, I wanted to be a yoga teacher. I wanted to master all the poses, learn all the sanskrit names, know all the anatomy, have all the answers (or at least most of them).

In my second part of a career as a yoga instructor, I was more comfortable with just being me. I didn’t have all the answers. I had forgotten most of the sanskrit names and confused a lot of the muscle functions and groups by having read too much. Should I breathe in or out into bridge pose? Having been trained both ways now, which is best? I had given up stressing and taught breathing in for up, as this felt better to me, even though I just attended a whole training on why it should be the opposite.

Yoga is space. Yoga is being present. Yoga is letting go of perfection and being happy to try our best and release attachment to any particular outcome. Yoga is freedom. Yoga is universal acceptance and I can’t share this if I am not practicing it myself.

I try to let go of everything else, try to not be endlessly chasing perfection and be happy with where I am. I don’t have all the answers. I still learn from teaching.

I didn’t start my day 90 minutes before my kids got up, but about 20 minutes after.

There is so much more to Yoga than mastering all the poses. As I get older, I am learning that our mental state is more responsible for our physical self than we ever credit it for. Therefore, I try to share this in my classes. Look after the Earth, look out for other beings and focus on the internal.

If you think, think truth, this is Jnana yoga.

If you act, act selflessly, this is Karma yoga.

If you feel, feel love, which is Bhakti yoga.

If you want to do nothing at all, then stop in Samadhi, the end of all yoga.


Author: Hannah Martin

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: Sue Clark/Flickr


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