I started practicing yoga in my mid teens when yoga was offered as an option for school sport. What an inspired, wise bunch of teachers we had to organise this alternative to competitive sports. I still recall the pungent odour of the unventilated space we were bussed to on Thursday afternoons – one of feet and rubber. It was a well-taught Iyengar class, heavy on the prop supplies and it was a positive introduction to the benefits of yoga because it changed me for the better. It was only after finishing school (and this weekly class) that I noticed tension in my shoulders for the first time in my young life. That was and still is where I store my tension… but yoga helps.
In fact, I’ve become pretty well acquainted with yoga over the years and doing yoga teacher training in 2015 deepened that relationship. I would never say it’s a friendship, but Yoga and I have an understanding of sorts. Each time I come to my mat, I imagine that Yoga and I are going for a walk together or even a run if we’re feeling energetic. Other days, Yoga and I only have enough fuel in the tank to take a slow stroll around the block and head back when it all gets a bit much. Yoga says that’s ok and I do too. Yoga always holds my hand. Still today, I am so glad to have met Yoga seventeen years ago and for my practice to have endured whilst my other fitness pursuits (gyms, personal trainers and bloody Les Mills) have fallen by the wayside.
Maybe you have a story of your own introduction to yoga – perhaps a friend brought you along to their favourite class, maybe a DVD or Youtube video got you started at home on the rug. Or, very likely, you saw a local class advertised and decided to give it a go. What I hope didn’t happen to you was this – you saw a stylised, sexed-up image of a young white female doing gymnastics (not recognisable, accessible yoga) either online somewhere or on a poster advertising a class. Then you went to the class and felt inadequate, fat and ugly. Those images (and plenty of videos too) entice people to spend money trying to attain perfection in the same way the beauty industry does; by affecting your emotional self. But these advertising strategies make huge mistakes. They make a shallow association between thinness and flexibility (oh so wrong!), sexiness and strength (not exactly feminist..) and skimpy outfits with success (…ergh, see below). Granted, not all yoga studios, magazines or websites promote themselves in this way. But the few that do pack quite a punch in the yoga industry and thoroughly ingrain into many people’s minds that there is a certain ‘yoga’ body type that you either have or you don’t and if you are lucky enough to have it ….well then it’s all due to the power of yoga.
I really hope you had a really positive experience whatever your first time was and you keep coming back to yoga for good reasons. And that the teaching at your favourite studio is considered and sensitive enough not to leave you sore, exhausted or frustrated. Hopefully, you are drawn to a practice that inspires restfulness and the gentle elixir of balance, flexibility and strength work.
For me, it is the increased balance and strength that I seek most because I am already naturally flexible. Secondarily, the better sleep I enjoy and the body awareness I gain can be attributed to a quality, consistent practice. I notice micro changes in my body and am sensitive to what yoga sequences I can use to remedy the discomfort or altered range of movement I may have that day. Today I noticed that frequent practice has strengthened my chaturanga dandasana; transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis and obliques working in unison with my shoulder joint. Lately, my arms and legs are stronger for having endured sustained warrior poses, always within my limits.
But seriously, dear yoga industry, you’ve become far too trend-driven for my liking. Please stop pasting mandalas and random Sanskrit text on everything from muesli bars and mats to air purifiers and food diaries. It’s far from the authentic yogic experience… it’s tacky. But more about that in next week’s post…
Comment below if you’d like to share thoughts on your own yoga practice. Would love to hear how you and Yoga first met.