I’ll start this off by saying that yoga has made a profoundly positive difference in my life.
With that out there, I feel safe saying my next statement: For a practice of self love and acceptance, starting (and nonetheless committing) to yoga can be… Portentous? Eccentric? Foreign? An unnerving concoction of all three?
Yoga is a multifaceted practice, and not all of those facets are self-illuminating or overwhelmingly positive. Yeah, you’re going to place expectations on yourself. You’re also going to fall short of those expectations many, many times. But the thing is – all of those feelings are okay Even more, those feelings are welcome. There’s a reason you’re leaving work half an hour early so that you get your favorite spot in the studio right next to the window — and it’s not always because of your social anxiety or your non-athleticism. Every time you get on your mat, you probe a little deeper into your mind, your body and your practice… and you eventually find it.
Finding your “It“
It is different for everyone. Some people come to yoga knowing exactly what they want to get out of it. Others are exploring and seeing what they can find within themselves. Some people are testing their physical limits. In the least kitschy way possible, yoga is everything you want and need it to be. Yet, yoga is different and thought provoking every single time you practice. Yoga is weirdly invasive in that way… and oh man is it addictive.
Once I find it, my inner critic quiets down and I overcome a bit more of my nagging self doubt. Every stretch is a chance to marvel at what my body can do and to learn that I am enough. I don’t walk into the studio expecting to leave it a changed woman. What I have come to expect is that every time I leave shavasana, I am a bit more self assured, a bit more content in my opinions, a bit more physically flexible and a bit more full. I am enough. They’re baby steps, but I’m getting there.
It’s not all stretching…
I started yoga because I needed a hybrid of a workout class and a therapy session and yoga seemed to fit the bill. The yoga studio I chose was close to my office, clean and was flooded with natural light. As a Master’s student, I was provided a discounted rate (added bonus!). However, when I walked into my first class, my heart started racing and I immediately felt the back of my throat tighten. This was not a reflection of my choice of yoga studios, but a clear view of those self-imposed limitations that kept me from yoga for so long.
This was the beginning of my least relaxing yoga session to date. I was something akin to a baby horse learning to stand; i stumbled, fell and gasped for air like someone was trying to steal all of the oxygen away from me. Every second felt like an hour and afterwards I swore up and down that I had just subjected myself to medieval torture.
At first, what kept me going back was an idea- a simple picture in my head. Setting an intention may seem cliche, but for me, it works. I envision what I have to lose and everything I have to gain. The beauty of yoga is that your intention can change. Some days I’ll try to send light to every dark place in the world and other days i’m simply trying to that open that one tight hip that just. won’t. budge. And that’s totally cool! You do you, yoga girl (or guy!).
The first time I caught an inversion, I was so thrilled that I came crashing down onto the floor. Crow pose continues to baffle me. To this day I still practice my Vinyasa facing a mirror just to see how unstable I look. The difference is that now I’m not judging myself and holding myself to unnecessary standards. Now I have my boyfriend stand ready to catch my legs as I throw myself into a hand stand and I’m not comparing myself to the person next to me. I’m learning how to applaud my own successes, no matter how small. I’m learning how to find it.
My personal yogi manifesto (for the on the mat, off the mat and everywhere in between):
- Mindfulness: Actively focus your attention on what you’re doing. Be in the moment. Learn to appreciate what you have while you have it.
- Comparison: Comparison is a thief of joy and sucks the uniqueness out of everything you do. Whether I’m comparing my poses to the yogi’s next to me or scrolling through my Facebook feed, I do have to remind myself that what I am doing is awesome too.
- Delusions of grandeur: As much as you want to dive straight into the most challenging poses, you can’t. It’s just not physically possible.
- Listen to your body: Body knows best. Now listen to it.
- Push your limits: Sure, listen to your body. But how are you ever going to know what amazing, incredible things you can do if you never try it?
- Find the time: You have 168 hours in a week. It should pretty easy to find just 7 for your practice, right? Wrong, so very wrong. It’s not easy to tear yourself away from a work project (or the couch, let’s be honest), but creating a routine and sticking to it does help.
Yoga retreats are the best way to fully immerse yourself in yoga. Having a skilled teacher and a supportive community help to make yoga retreats available to any skill level! Check out SwellWomen’s retreats here.
Looking to advance your practice? Check out our blog here to learn more about how surfing is the perfect complement to yoga!
Photography by Shelby Eaton Media