I arrived early to a yoga class on my college campus the other day, a 43-year-old among 19 and 20-year-olds who trickled in slowly and set up their mats. One by one, each newcomer unrolled her mat as far away from the front and center of the room as possible. With less and less space available, a beautiful young girl flung her mat open behind and just to the right of me. She said, “you must be super good at yoga to be willing to be up front!"
Ugh. This brings up about a dozen things I would like to discuss with her about why her assumption is so untrue!
First of all, the irony is that, since I’m old(er) – which occasionally means I tend to be more blind, deaf, uncoordinated, and feeble than the students around me – I put my mat in the front of the room so that I can easily hear the yoga teacher’s cues, see what he/she is doing should I need to check in, and have plenty of room to not kill anybody if I fall over! My heartfelt advice to anyone new-ish to yoga is to bring your mat to the front of the room! It may be one of the most important things you can do for your practice. You don’t want to constantly be straining to see or hear, because then you definitely can’t get into your own rhythm… and you certainly don’t want to depend on your neighbor’s poses to guide you in alignment or breathing!
Another very important reason that I head for the front of the room is the same reason some hide in the back – I am not “super good” at yoga, and therefore having less people in front of me or around me often helps me to maintain my focus during challenging balance poses. If you don’t think we all affect each other in yoga practice, just observe the next time you are in the midst of about a dozen people barely hanging onto balancing half-moon (ardha-chandrasana) and one of them falls out… can you say “domino effect?” The force of prana is undeniable. While I do need to cultivate a better practice in the middle of the pack, right now having fewer bodies in my line of vision helps me with pratyahara – “coming inside,” withdrawing my senses from the room. More and more often I find myself practicing with my eyes closed or with an unfocused drishti (gaze).
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is understanding the accusation/acknowledgment/compliment of being “super good” at yoga. What does that mean, exactly? Because being able to do a headstand, hold bakasana (crow) for ten breaths, or make it up easily into wheel are no more or less important than perfect alignment in triangle pose (trikanasana) or a really well-folded forward bend (uttanasana).The longer you do yoga, if you get hooked, the more you will appreciate the less flashy moves. So, being “super good” at yoga, truly, is knowing what is available to your body each time you step on the mat, and allowing your heart and your body to guide your practice that day – not your ego! That takes time, too. Once you know what you can do and see improvement in your awareness and control, you no longer have any qualms about backing off of the showy stuff. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, on any given day.
I actively chased a traditional headstand for literally two years, and now that I know I can do it, it is just another pose that I may or may not need to do. The more poses that are available to me, challenging or not, the more I love to focus on the perfect simple alignment of plank, the squaring of the hips forward for warrior (virabradrasana 1), and sometimes the hardest pose of all: corpse pose (savasana). Because, connected with the breath, it’s ALL yoga. And practicing from your heart, not your ego, with whatever is available to you each day IS being “super good” at yoga! These are lessons that fill my head from my beloved yoga teachers.
So give it a try at your next yoga class… head to the front of the room for a change, see how it changes your practice.