If you could go back in time and meet your beginner yogi-self, what would you say? What words of wisdom or advice would you share about the practice?
This was a question I've recently been asking myself. I've been teaching for over five years now and when I think back to those first days, weeks and months in front of my students, I have to smile. My teaching, like my practice, has continued to evolve, shaping me into the person I am today. But much like life, it's also gotten stuck and bored and uninspired.
All those normal moods and temperaments we move through off our mats, can tend to find their way onto the mat. I've learnt that while life can step in and create clutter, the more time I dedicate to movement on my mat, the easier it is to climb my way out of the mental clutter.
So what would you say? Is it the same advice you give to friends and loved ones who have recently started a practice or are considering one?
Years ago, I probably would have told my beginner yogi-self to get off her ass and get moving no matter what. That's the side of me that was always striving for more. But as time went on, that voice softened. I've learned to mold my practice to fit my life and moods. I've learned to pay attention to what my body needs at any given moment, recognize when I'm being lazy and need that extra push, or when I'm emotionally or spiritual exhausted and need to take a legitimate break.
Here are five things I learned in my years as a practitioner that I'd tell to anyone new to yoga:
1. Try out a few styles until you find the right fit.
Yoga is not a one stop shop. There are many different styles, disciplines and teachers to get a taste of. The same goes for studios. So try them on for size and see who and what is your best fit.
Can't get to a studio or don't have the funds to support a practice? The same theory applies for online classes. Do some research and try different teachers until you find your match. Many studios also offer donation based classes to help make yoga more accessible to everyone.
2. Let your inner child come out to play.
Remember when life was exciting and full of curious moments? When the simple act of spinning in circles or running with the wind was the best feeling ever? Sadly, we have a tendency to lose that connection to simple pleasures as we grew older. Responsibilities, family, work and life in general tend to bog us down. Insecurities grow stronger and the fear of looking foolish stands in our way.
And I'm no stranger to those feelings — I was shy as a child and that grew stronger into adulthood. I used to envy those people that could put themselves out there and not care what others thought. But as I stepped into the practice and teaching, I let go of those insecurities. I found that the more I gave into the movement, the less I cared about what other people thought.
Next time you hit the mat, trying practicing with your eyes closed. This action may just allow you more freedom to play.
3. Make friends with your body again.
This goes hand-in-hand with letting your inner child come out to play. Embrace where you're at in your practice, no matter what's going on with you. Ignore the inner critic that tells you that you're not good enough. Your body is perfect and so are you. Try as best you can to leave judgements at the door when you set foot inside the studio.
Make peace with your body — every jiggle and crevice and all the spaces in between, that are flexible and not-so-flexible. We all have our own challenges, so what you're capable of doing or not doing is going to be different then your neighbor … and that's a good thing. Embrace it and learn how to work with it, not against it.
4. Know when to put on the brakes.
Giving yourself a break mentally, emotionally and spiritually throughout your journey as a yogi is so crucial, especially during class. And while you're there, check in with yourself physically, too. If you're getting frustrated, tired, angry ... then a rest in Child's Pose is where you need to be.
I see many students, at all levels, powering through a vinyasa that begin to slump once they've tired out. This will only lead to injury down the road. So take a break! Whether it's in Downward Dog, Child's Pose, or you just sit down and chill out for a bit.
5. Give yourself a high-five!
You did it! You made the decision to step onto your mat in a room full of strangers, and that's no an easy task. Give yourself massive credit for having the courage to do what many talk about, but don't ever find the courage to. And this applies for any type of movement or physical exercise. And if you went with a friend or loved one, give them a high five, too!