Starting a yoga practice
Actualizado: 29 de abr de 2020
I wrote this article as a guest writer for Ms. Health Esteem's blog.
You can read the original post here.
I started practicing yoga nine years ago. I had been curious about the practice for a long time. It was my mother who first showed me what a sun salutation was, back at my university time. I was amazed at the agility of my mother, moving from one posture to another. At that time (as it had been since my teenage years), I was suffering from back pain due to my scoliosis and that strange and alluring dance seemed like a feat far from anything I would ever be able to do. “Touching the floor with my fingertips? Not with my back!” I thought.
I want you to really let these words sink. You see, I was not only talking to myself quite negatively, making myself feel like a failure in physical terms, for not being able to do at 20 years of age, what my forty-something-years-old mum was so gracefully doing. In fact, I was also depriving myself of the experience of discovering a whole new world of possibilities. When I think of that day now, I understand what the problem was: misunderstanding and a wrong attitude; not the fact that I indeed couldn’t touch the floor with my fingertips.
After all these years, I have learnt a lot. I have gone from being pretty limited in my movement range, to feeling free in my body. I have gone from exercising rarely, to establishing a consistent physical practice. One could say that I have gone from being a beginner, to being on the other side of the spectrum, after completing several yoga teacher trainings (although that’s another matter I’ll talk about later). In this article, I would like to share with you some of those things that I have learnt along the way, in hopes that this ignites a love in you, to start this life-changing journey with a little understanding and a positive attitude.
Start where you are
People start doing yoga at different ages, in different life situations, for different reasons. Every yoga journey is unique. That’s the beautiful thing. You don’t need to be or have anything to start a yoga practice. There are no prerequisites.
In my yoga journey, the thing that finally pushed me into it, was what had initially kept me from it. The irony! Years after that day I saw my mother sun saluting, my back pain was getting even worse. It really was becoming a burden. After some physical therapy, I decided I had to take matters into my own hands and made a commitment to visit a yoga class once a week, so I would slowly strengthen my back.
For me, my early yoga days meant visiting beginner classes, where I asked myself if I had got it wrong and was in fact in a medium or advance class. Everything. Was. Hard. But that didn’t keep me from going. I simply took one pose at a time and tried my best. I learnt to accept that this was my physical state at the moment.
The early yoga days of other people may look very different to yours, and so they should! Think that the path you are in now is unique, just as you are. Being the only person granted the honor to live your personal experience, you should try and enjoy it as it comes. And remember, yoga is not about touching the floor with your fingertips, but about what you learn on the way there.
Learn to love the practice
This is essential. For no one would get too far doing something they don’t enjoy. Motivation is very important and loving the practice will make it easier to come back to it, again and again.
I think something that lots of people love about yoga, is how the practice makes them feel. It is a good idea to observe the changes in your body and mind during the practice. I used to focus on how my back felt at the beginning and end of each class. As we always started and ended sitting in meditation, it was easy to feel the difference. Any time I would feel my back hurt, I remembered the sensation at the end of a session and knew what I could do to feel better.
Find a teacher you resonate with
This next point is crucial. In the early stages of your practice, having a good teacher to guide you will have a huge impact, not only in your learning, but also in terms of motivation and inspiration. I remember finding a teacher I absolutely loved a few months into the practice, and I just couldn’t wait for Fridays at 17:00 to go to her class. I even remember riding back home happily humming my way sometimes, and I can still feel that sensation of wholeness and connection that she inspired in me. This doesn’t mean that you’ll have to attend the same classes for the rest of your life. Your practice will evolve together with you and your circumstances. Such figures will help you keep going and thus, learn to love the practice.
In time, a self-practice at home will be of enormous value and a sign of your dedication and (again) love for the practice (seems like the previous point must be the most important one!) But think of yourself as a baby, who is learning everything about life. Just like you wouldn’t leave a baby alone and ignore their needs, you need to give yourself the chance to get the help and guidance that will make you be a better yogi and in time, allow you to open your wings and take flight.
Finally, while you search for your favourite teacher (or even after you have), don’t hesitate to try different styles of yoga. This will give you a bigger scope to experiment and a better understanding of what practicing yoga means to you personally.
Create your support network
Finding people that share your interests and inspire you, together with creating a lifestyle that supports your practice, will just make things a lot easier. If you have a friend who practices yoga, go to classes together! Having someone to share the practice with will provide you with motivation and endless profound conversations. But if you don’t happen to have a yogi among your friends, I can assure you that you’ll make some new buddies and acquaintances in your regular yoga class.
It seems like starting this journey has a snowball effect on other sides of life. Practicing yoga strengthens your ability to look inside of you and listen to your heart’s desires. You’ll see more clearly what makes you happy and what doesn’t. You may realize that some habits or people in your life are not in tune with your pursue of happiness and it’ll be an easier decision to let go of what’s not working for you in your life anymore.
Do not compare your practice or progress
So, you get to yoga class, you place your mat (probably at the back), you begin the practice, and inevitably you start checking what your neighbour is doing. We all do that, not only beginners! Dismissing the negative voices of your ego is a hard task. The good news is that yoga will teach you once and again, that you don’t need to identify yourself with the ego this way. We are more than a body and thoughts.
Set an intention, rather than a goal
One thing I love about yoga is that it doesn’t make any sense to be competitive, at least to me. This practice is a very intimate and personal experience, where there is absolutely no need for showing great feats to others, or ourselves.
In fact, the funny thing is that yoga has more to do with being than doing. Therefore, measuring progress becomes personal too, as we are the only ones who can assess how we are feeling.
I am not opposed to having particular goals in the practice, for example, mastering a specific pose. But I believe that it is more enriching to work in the being, more than the doing. That’s why I find intentions more interesting than goals.
An intention is a positive statement that we repeat to ourselves, where we express something we long for. This statement is normally done at the beginning and end of the practice, but it could be revisited at any point of the practice really. Intentions are expressed in positive language, in the present tense, and have (of course) to do with being, more than doing. Here are some examples: “I am calm”, “I am focused”, “I am strong”, “I follow my intuition”, etc. Of course, you can (and should) come up with your personal intention.
At first it might take time to find what your intention is. But in time, you’ll be able to pinpoint what it is you are aiming for. Moreover, your intention may change in time. Maybe even every day! This is quite usual at the beginning and it is not a bad thing. As I say, you are training yourself in listening to your heart. Just give yourself time and you’ll hear clearer and clearer.
Be curious about all aspects of yoga
In the early stages of practice, most people consider yoga as a physical activity. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. I actually don’t like calling yoga “exercise”, because I don’t think it is about just moving the body. There are many more components to it, and this can be seen in the deep impact yoga can have, not only in our body, but in our mind too.
Asana (postures) is the starting point for the majority of us, but interestingly enough, as I came to learn during my training in India, it is the least important practice there. Yoga can be practiced in many different forms: by breathing, chanting, relaxing, meditating, walking, helping others… To sum it up, the practice of yoga is really the practice of life. It’s all about bringing awareness to every aspect of your life.
We are all the eternal student
Finally, the most important point of all: we are all here learning. From the yogi who has been practicing for 20+ years to the brand new student who goes to class wondering what they are getting themselves into. In fact, if you are able to stay curious and eager to learn, even after you have been at it for a long time, you have then learnt one of the biggest lessons. Because the moment you think you know it all and you have mastered the whole thing, you have let the ego take the wheel and you’ll miss on continuing the journey into the Self.
My message for you then is: stay fascinated and open-minded, don’t take anything for granted or make assumptions about the practice. And listen, always listen inside yourself. Everything you need to you, is already there.