“The greatest power you possess in life is your understanding that life gives you a fresh start any moment you choose to start fresh.” ~ Guy Finley
September sings of fresh starts, with the weather changing and the new school year beginning, but as the quote above so perfectly reminds us, we can have a new start at any moment that we choose. One of the things that I have learned since starting to practice yoga regularly is that each time I step on my mat the experience is different. Every day that I choose to practice, I have the opportunity to learn a new pose, to stretch out a different muscle, to honor my body in a new manner and to further my practice in a different way.
In honor of the promise of fresh starts, I’ve compiled a list of ten things I have learned as a brand-new yogi. Each has been a beautiful and surprising lesson that has empowered me to works towards getting the most out of my practice while also helping to alleviate some of the uncertainty that comes with embracing a new challenge. Hopefully some of these little tips will help you with whatever new beginning you are choosing to embrace…on or off the mat.
1. Leave your assumptions at the door.
One of the first things I learned when I started yoga was that holding expectations for class was the quickest way to tune out my body and what it needed from me that day. Things rarely turn out exactly as we envision them, and if we let go of what we believe a pose should be, we won’t miss how awesome it actually is. A gentle reminder to be with my body and breath when I step on the mat has helped me create the space to take exactly what I need from each class.
2. Truly listen to your teacher.
It’s really easy to get caught up in perfecting individual poses, and I used to find myself so focused on mastering each one that I would tend to tune out the instructions my teacher was giving. In time I came to realize that often the subtle cues are what help me get out of my own way and into a pose for the first time. Opening my ears, heart and mind to their instructions has given me so much more than the struggle I used to have within my own head.
3. Meet yourself where you are.
Yoga is a fantastic workout for the body, mind and spirit, but getting that workout does not always mean reaching the fullest expression of every pose. Know your body, listen your body, honor your body and give it what it needs on any given day.
4. Use your classmates for inspiration.
Its common to fall into the comparison trap when practicing yoga in a group setting, but what if we choose to feel inspiration instead of jealousy? Everything we think and feel is a choice, and when I started to respect the practice of those around me instead of envy it I could feel a shift in energy. Each of us has a different strength, whether it be an advanced handstand practice or an acute awareness of our own body, so praise your classmates for what they accomplish on the the mat and you might be surprised to find that they are in awe of you as well.
5. When in doubt, breathe.
When your muscles start to quiver, your mind screams to release the pose and you don’t think you can hold on for one moment longer, switch your focus to your breath. It seems crazy, but for me, breathing ease into the muscles that are yelling takes the focus away from the stress of the moment. Besides, don’t you think you can do anything for just a few more breaths?
6. Falling is a good thing.
One of the hardest lessons for me to learn on the mat was that falling out of a pose is permitted and encouraged. Perfectionism doesn’t have a place in yoga, and that realization was so rewarding for me. Falling means that you are pushing your body to learn something new, whether it be an expression of a pose or the art of moving with your breath, and it provides countless opportunities for growth.
7. It’s never just about the pose.
One of my favorite descriptions of yoga is as a moving meditation. Thinking of my practice this way reminds me that each class is about so much more than the pose. If my hips won’t quite open on a day when we seem to spend hours in pigeon pose, then maybe what I will take from that class is increased practice in relaxing into an uncomfortable situation, and that might be infinitely more important than full expression of the pose.
8. Ask questions.
In a class where much of the time is spent in focused silence, with group breath and the gentle guidance of the teacher serving as the only soundtrack, it can be incredibly intimidating to ask questions. However, seeking insight into poses and variations is not only allowed, it is encouraged. A yoga class is a conversation – between you and your body, as well as the class and the teacher. Chances are if you are wondering about something, one of your classmates might be as well. I can remember how liberating it was the first time someone asked a question in one of my classes. Not only did it address something I was thinking, but it also added to the sense of community and learning together within the studio. So ask away yogis, and remember that your teachers are always around before and after class to answer questions as well.
9. Child’s pose can be your best friend.
This is a lesson that I am still learning. While it is important to challenge your mind and body each time you step onto the mat, it is also important to listen to yourself and take what you need. A few moments in child’s pose after a series of intense sun salutations might give you just enough of a boost to move seamlessly from eagle into warrior III with eagle arms later on in class. In yoga, as in life, sometimes knowing when to back off for just a moment can be so much more nurturing than perpetually soldiering through.
10. Practice makes progress.
Perfectionism doesn’t have a place on the yoga mat. As someone who swam competitively for much of my life, it was a real shock to the system for me to understand that no one wins a yoga class. I eventually fell in love with the practice for that very reason however, as I came to learn that it was not about being the best but about becoming the best version of myself. Its a journey with no endpoint but lots of little milestones to celebrate along the way, and the only way to make progress it to commit to the practice.
What lessons have you learned from your yoga practice, either as a beginner or a long-time practitioner? Do any of the above resonate with you? I’d love to hear your insights in the comments!
See you on the mat!