3 Things Yoga Is NOT

Written by Melanie Woodrow

Of all the things I would describe as delicious I never imagined a yoga studio would be one of them. Lucky me I recently added the most delicious even scrumptious yoga studio to my teaching practice. The space reminds me of a molten lava fudge cake. It's warm and moist. It smells like sandalwood and figs. Being in it is cozier than my softest t-shirt. Months ago I walked by it for the first time late at night after closing. I pressed my face up to the glass window and wondered what it was like on the other side.

I see that same wondering early Wednesday mornings when I sit at the front table waiting for my students to arrive. Runners, cyclists and businesspeople jog, pedal and speed walk by almost always glancing in and I imagine wondering.

It occurred to me being on the other side of the glass perhaps I forgot what it's like to be on the outside wondering.

Whenever I tell people I teach yoga I almost always hear, "Oh, I've thought about doing yoga, but I'm not flexible" or "I'm afraid everyone will look at me."

Yoga is not about contorting your body. It's not even about touching your toes and it's certainly not a beauty pageant.

For the curious on the other side of the glass here are 3 Things Yoga is Not.

1. A competition. Where the eyes go the body will follow. It can be tempting while taking a yoga class to look around, if not to compare perhaps to admire, but even that creates comparison and judgement. Looking around will not only compromise your balance it is also wasted energy. There are no medal ceremonies at the end of class. It's not likely you'll be critiqued pose by pose. Your practice is your own. Allow it to be whatever it is and try not to judge what it looks like.

2. A race. Yoga is a moving meditation. If you are breathing and moving with your breath you are practicing yoga. When the breath becomes short and choppy chances are you are pushing past your edge. There is nowhere to go. There is no end destination. While the postures evolve and change shape they never end. As such the inhales and exhales should be slow, long and even. Use each inhale breath to check in with your body and each exhale breath to stay where you are or possibly deepen according to how your body feels. Take your time. If you are a little behind the rest of the class it's all good. Plus if you are not competing you won't notice anyway.

3. A commentary on your life. Your yoga mat can certainly mirror your life. It will reveal your authentic self and show you where you glow and radiate love as well as where fear may be holding you back. That being said your ability to balance or find flexibility in a posture is not a commentary on who you are as a person. In my teaching practice I've noticed the resistance some students have to placing their foot at the inner ankle or calf rather than on the thigh in tree pose. It's as if this lower variation isn't good enough which in turn means doing it makes them not good enough. The deepest form of practice is one in which you listen to and honor your body even if that means keeping both feet on the ground.

The first time I tried yoga I was in college. I chose hatha yoga for a mandatory gym requirement. I enjoyed it but I kept falling asleep. After college I didn't have time to 'sleep' any more than the few hours I allowed myself in bed at night so I stopped practicing. Then a few years ago I started wondering about yoga again. I discovered hot yoga and eventually vinyasa. Suddenly yoga clicked for me. In finding yoga for the second time it felt as though I found myself for the first time.

Inside this delicious even scrumptious yoga studio where I now teach there's a quote written in chalk from the Grateful Dead song Scarlet Begonias.

"Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right."

If I hadn't looked again I might have missed yoga. I can't imagine my life without the light it has created. I hope it's bright enough to reach those wondering on the other side of the glass.

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