Make the Yoga Fit Your Body
I get a lot of brand new students to yoga in my current location. I know that people can get frustrated with any new type of exercise or activity, especially something that takes patience, courage, and discipline. I think that for some reason, we have these expectations of ourselves that make us think that if we don’t fit the mold that something is amiss. Maybe it stems from our culture and the madness in our marketing, but regardless – yoga will test you in many ways. The physical practice is just one.
Many are afraid to even try a class because they are not flexible. I guess this would be like saying, “I’m not going swimming because I don’t look good in a swim suit”. Well, I’ve got news for you – most people don’t look like cover models in a swim suit. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be enjoying their life and having fun on a hot summer day. Those cover models that burn images into our subconscious mind only make up a tiny percentage of the population, and yet we think that we are inferior for some reason. Did I mention they are airbrushed and photo shopped? Anyway, you get my point. It’s not real, it’s an illusion – and our egos see it as a concept of perfection.
The yoga poses may look simple enough. Hold it for 30 seconds and you will find that they are not easy. (Incidentally, my count of 5 breaths is just about 30-40 seconds.) Add in your own mental chatter and the pose seems like eternity and failure.
My motto is to make the yoga fit your body, not your body to fit the yoga. In other words, modify the pose so you can do some variation of it. The truth of the matter is that you will be reaping the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of yoga regardless of how perfect your imperfect your pose is. This excludes, of course, the basic tenets of alignment – because that is just for the safety of your body (joints, tendons, ligaments, etc.)
Yoga is slow medicine. It will take years, possibly decades to get into some of the advanced poses or to achieve Gumby-like flexiblity. Most people aren’t even interested in that, and don’t have time for it. You have to remember what your goals are. If you are just looking to get some kinks out, reduce the affects of stress, sleep better at night, or just do a workout that doesn’t leave you pooped at the end, then you need not worry if you are “doing it right”. Trust me, I will fix your alignment if it looks damaging and I will correct you if you are on the wrong side. Other than that, keep your eyes focused on yourself, not the mirror or your neighbor. Feel your way through the pose and breathe. Nothing more, nothing less.
Sometimes the class can get tough. If it is so challenging that you forget to breathe, then maybe your body is asking for a break. Take a child’s pose and come back when you regain control over your breath. It is more important to breathe than it is to do the pose. Any time you start a new practice, whether it’s golf, chess, martial arts, or push-ups, there will be a period of challenge and adjustment. It’s a natural part of being human. Allow yourself the freedom to just be good enough, no matter what your practice leve is. The hardest part of yoga is getting yourself on the mat. Leave the rest to me and listen to your body.
And one last thing: don’t take yourself too seriously…it’s just yoga!