Lessons from a Yoga Rookie – A weekly column by Catherine Richardson
I began practicing yoga by accident. The university I attend requires all students to take two physical education courses in order to graduate. You could be a dean’s list student with at 4.1 grade point average and not graduate if you have not taken a gym class (we also have to pass a swim test… what’s up with that?). So, I did not come to my mat with some kind of divine inspiration, nor was I particularly knowledgeable about the practice or way of life. Needless to say, just about everything about yoga surprised me over the course of that semester, from my teacher’s name (Hawk) to the realization that I could no longer even touch my toes.
But the surprises did not stop with the end of that fateful course. My yoga practice has continued to surprise me every time I have stepped onto my mat over the past three years. And here’s how.
1. Yoga Rewards You When You Least Expect It
I always have a handful of poses I am working on. Right now, this list includes Side Crow pose, Side Plank pose, Bird of Paradise pose and handstand, to name a few. When a pose is on my this list, I give it a lot of love. I work it into the flows of my yoga classes, it is my go-to pose when a teacher reminds me to complete my practice in the way I see fit. I even work on it periodically throughout my day, when the surface and circumstance present themselves.
I have noticed something interesting in my journey to expand my yoga practice: sometimes it just clicks. I have worked on bird of paradise for months. Almost everyday, I would flow into extended side angle, bind my arms around my bent leg, and then begin to attempt to shift my weight and move into this difficult asana. And each time, I would position myself to stand up, begin to transition into the pose, and quickly lose my balance. It seemed like I would be repeating this routine every day for the rest of my life. Until one day, I practiced yoga with a new teacher. She instructed the pose in just a slightly different way, and all of a sudden, I was in it! I even managed to maintain the pose for a few breaths before stepping out of the pose. Granted, I still have a lot of work to do: my leg was nowhere near straight and I was only able to hold the pose for a couple of seconds, but it was a HUGE milestone.
So to all of you yogis out there striving to grow into more advanced postures, have hope! One day, it will click for you, too.
2. Yoga Will Light Up Your Day
The other day, I was in a bit of a funk. I hadn’t been getting enough sleep and I was low on energy. To top it all off, I was going through a bit of an emotional crisis. Yoga was definitely not the first thing on my mind. I really wanted to skip yoga class to lay on my couch with a plate of comfort food. BUT, it was Thursday, on which day I attend class at a different yoga studio in order to practice with one of my favorite teachers. This woman is truly amazing. Her flows are challenging and creative. Her attitude is positive, joyful and exudes true love for yoga. I was not going to pass that up (especially with the week I was having).
And then when I got to the studio, there was a substitute. Let’s just say, I lost my yogic serenity. I actually considered rolling up my mat and going home. For whatever reason, though, I didn’t. And, boy, did I make the right choice. The class that followed was pure fun. I smiled and laughed more in that class than in any other class I have ever taken. This joy fostered energy and strength in both my practice and my mental state. I loved this new teacher. The same teacher whose class I almost walked away from just moments before. She had given me such a gift on this difficult day.
3. Yoga Is More Than Meets The Eye
When I first began practicing yoga, it was all about the physical practice. While my first teacher was a true yogi who tried to expose her students to the deeper aspects of yoga, it all seemed a bit far fetched to me. She brought in diagrams of the seven chakras and introduced us to meditation, but while I remained open minded, it was a long time before these ideas really hit home.
I didn’t notice it happening at first, but lately I have noticed a big change. Until recently, I was at a bit of a dark point in my life. I found myself feeling depressed more than I ever had before. It was scary and overwhelming. And then I really began to latch onto my yoga practice. I began practicing more consistently. I took an Indian meditation class at my university. I began reading about yoga. And all of a sudden, I found that my mental state had significantly changed. I am less worried, more calm and just happier in general. I feel stronger and more balanced. Yoga has had a seriously profound impact on my life and I cannot express enough gratitude for this gift.
So Embrace the Surprise!
Yoga has so much to offer if you are ready to accept it. Be open to these endless enlightening surprises! You will learn so much from this amazing practice. All you have to do is open your eyes.