Yoga for the non-yogi.
Yoga. Is. Amazing. Honestly, I never would have thought bending my body into strange positions and breathing deeply in a room full of strangers could be so beneficial - but bizarrely it is.
I came to yoga after a difficult break up. I'd tried it a few times before, finding it, you know, nice and relaxing- but the 'earth didn't move' so I hadn't really understood what all the fuss was about. Fast forward a year or so and my twice weekly class of bending in strange, painful positions had become a regular fixture in my life. As my commitment went on I started to find it helped me process my emotions, calm my worries, and frankly, get me in the best shape of my life! Complete mental and physical magic. So after a few months I was feeling pretty confident in my downward dogs and my triangle poses and decided to graduate to a more advanced class in the center of the city. Oh my goodness. Arriving at my first class I had not anticipated how intimidated I would feel. I was a mildly flexible 25 year old in a baggy t-shirt and suddenly I was surrounded by meditating, hyper-toned, nose ring wearing, lithe bodied people decked out in head to toe Lulu Lemon. It was like accidentally walking into a real life Instagram post. The imposter syndrome kicked in hard and I felt an urge to apologise for interrupting everyone - and run for the door. Luckily I persevered and quickly found out I had no reason to worry as everyone was absolutely lovely and no one was judging my unimpressive level of flexibility - or my baggy t-shirt.
I've had a lot of friends and acquaintances admit they'd love to try yoga but there seems to be quite a bit of worry around the whole thing; "im not flexible at all!" or 'oh I don't know, I wouldn't want to be the worst in the class.." or "don't you have to be really skinny and fit to do that?"
Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have heavily glamourised yoga and created a perception that it's reserved for toned, tanned skinny minnies who live in Bali and seem to run on strange coloured juice - it's not, it's for anyone and everyone and the benefits are wonderful. So here are 3 myths about yoga I would like to share if you're feeling a bit nervous about going to your first class.
1) "You have to be flexible". No no no. Not at all - yoga is not about turning yourself into The Rubber Man. Physical flexibility is a fluctuating thing and some days I can keep my legs dead straight and curl my palms right under my feet - and then others I can barely touch my toes. One of the top physical benefits of practising yoga is that it facilitates and increases physical flexibility. So don't worry - no one is expecting you to turn up bending like a russian gymnast in your first class.
2) "I won't be able to keep up with everyone else." When you're on the mat - it's about you. It's your time and it's about going into your own mental and emotional space and cultivating self compassion. Yoga is not a competitive sport and the whole philosophy of practice is about aligning you mind, body and spirit and listening to your body. Sometimes in classes its natural to look around the room and think 'oh god how can everyone be staying in this position for so long?! owwww!' It's human nature to compare ourselves but your fellow yogis are not judging you and neither is your teacher. So don't worry about what anyone thinks and remember it is always completely ok to spend half a class in a heap on your mat - if that's what your body seems to want.
3) 'Isn't it like a religion?' No it's not, but yoga does have a huge spiritual element and this is something I will admit I struggled with upon first beginning to practice. I soon realized you can take as much or as little of that side as you want. You won't be unknowingly joining a cult by going to a class and after 3 years of practice I'm only just getting comfortable with the whole 'chanting' thing. It can ease you into your spiritual world if you would like that, or you can focus more on the physical benefits if you so prefer - it's entirely your practice and your choice.
Regularly practicing yoga has helped me learn how to calm myself, focus my mind and cultivate some balance in my life. It has taught me to have more self-compassion, and compassion for others, which has then filtered into a lot of my personal relationships and the way I navigate the world. I've learnt to listen to my body and become more comfortable with the bits I don't like rather than working against them. Too many of us fight a war with our bodies we could do without so ignore your doubts, ignore all that ridiculous 'Pinterest perfection', grab yourself a mat and give it a go.