I’ve been practising yoga for over 16 years now, so I consider myself as an ‘experienced beginner,’ on the yogic path. Having attended a wide variety of classes, read as much as I possibly can get my hands on and worked hard to embrace the full experience of the tradition, I feel that I am giving it my best shot, yet I am still a beginner because every day I learn something new from my yoga.
For the initial part of my journey I used a variety of good and not so helpful yoga DVDs/videos, mainly because there were no classes near where I lived and because I was mostly a student with limited income. This format of learning offered me the chance to practice at home (in my pyjamas if I wanted) and to become familiar with the Sanskrit terms and alignment cues offered. But it didn’t help me to push myself beyond my comfort zone, and that is one of the many benefits yoga offers us – the chance to challenge our bodies and minds by working through our tightness’s and troubles and exploring a deeper range of emotion and movement.
I remember my first class at the studio I now teach at, and the moment I realised I had found the next step on my yogic path. As instructed, I came into a seated forward fold, and held onto my ankles (as I always did) with a very rounded back. But my skilled teacher could see that I was not working to my potential and she guided me into my first big toe lock forward fold. I’m not sure if I was more shocked or delighted that I could do that, but I knew that I would learn a lot in this studio. Despite my knowledge of yoga and regular at home practice, I did not know what I was capable of, and needed the expert guidance of my teacher to help me see that I could, in fact, reach further than I believed.
This metaphor took on a new dimension when a chance discussion with my teacher led down the path to becoming a qualified yoga teacher. My yoga practice reached further again, as I explored the possibility of sharing this amazing gift with others, and the terrifying prospect of spending a year studying and making new friends. Again, I found myself as a beginner, learning new things from new people and pushing myself further than I believed I could possibly reach.
Since qualifying as a yoga teacher, I have realised that my yogic life (or real life, as there’s no real difference between the two) is a lot like that forward fold in the studio. I am happy working things out on my own and feeling the confines of my comfort zone, but I also need a little push now and then to take me to new limits and opportunities.
I never imagined that I would be running a small business, in addition to the day job (which has also afforded many yoga opportunities too) and teaching classes each week to people who are also beginners in this yogic path. I may be standing at the front of the room, leading the class, but I can assure you that I am learning as much as they are from every class I teach.
Now my yoga world has expanded beyond my wildest imagination. I attend classes with amazing teachers who challenge my beliefs in myself and help me to safely work towards reaching further. I don’t know every yoga pose out there, my Sanskrit is a bit dodgy at times and often I forget the standing balances in the Ashtanga Primary Series. I’m working on loosening tightness’s in my body which have held me back and caused me pain, hello psoas and lats! The revelation that I need to loosen up has afforded me the opportunity to view my yoga practice in a whole new light. I’m now looking at the muscles I overuse and the ones that don’t do their fair share of the work. Again, I am a beginner as I explore new ways to move into familiar postures and face the challenges that this new way of moving throws in my path.
I always want to stay a beginner because I think there is so much to learn, and not just in terms of asana practice either. As I have wandered along the yogic path, I’ve begun a meditation practice, used pranayama (breathing techniques) to calm me before presentations at work, and I try to incorporate the Yamas and Niyamas into my daily life.
I’m not quite a traditional yogi, but I’ve found a way to integrate yoga into my life and make it work for me. Surely that is what yoga is all about?