Yoga is such a rich tradition that in many ways we all remain beginners. Those with the most advanced yoga practice may well not be the ones who can even touch their toes. Yoga is about how we live our lives and not just the shapes that we make on our mat. It is much much more than just a physical practice.
For many it starts as a form of physical exercise to keep the body toned, supple and strong. But these are really just the positive side affects of yoga. In time we master the breath which leads us to connect the body and the mind. From here we learn to calm the mind and to access deep relaxation. In time, we may open up to the possibilities of meditation and even a spiritual realm. Somewhere along the way, the impact of yoga starts to ripple out through all aspects of our lives as we grow, evolve and become more thoughtful and compassionate.
So, as a beginner the route in to yoga is usually through the physical body, which is why it can be normal to get het up about not being flexible enough or strong enough. It’s common to bring our goal-oriented mindsets to the mat and to want to achieve, or to compete - the ego is at play and needs to be conquered! But yoga should be about relinquishing the ego and nourishing and nurturing ourselves, not striving for attainment.
In time, the more our yoga practice deepens, the more our focus turns inward and we become less concerned with the physical postures (asana). It’s pretty irrelevant whether you can stand on your hands – although it can seem pretty cool. The breath and the state of mind become much more important than the physical practice. And in time, taking yoga off the mat and living life with honesty and integrity, following the yogic ethics (Yamas & Niyamas) becomes more important still.
People come to yoga for the first time for a myriad number of reasons, primarily for physical exercise or to reduce stress. The beauty of yoga is it gives you whatever you came for, plus so much more. So when you start your yoga journey, your focus may well be on touching your toes and improving flexibility. A year or two later you may be intent on doing a headstand and improving balance. And then later still you may get caught up on the thrill of a strength-building handstand. But somewhere down the line things will start to shift. The breath will open up your body and heart and mind. Other aspects of yoga – the chanting, the silence, the meditation, the pranayama, the philosophical teachings, the spiritual side of yoga – will start to define why you do yoga. The physicality of the practice becomes a medium to get you there. We tend to lose the obsession with the postures as our practice deepens, which is something of a blessing as we age and the postures become more challenging.
After practice as we sit or lie in stillness, we feel different in our bodies, minds and hearts. Calmer, more centred, more giving than we did when we rolled out our mats 60-90 minutes earlier. We take that with us when we roll up our mat.
It is important as a beginner to realise that you can experience yoga on so many different levels. This is a tradition of around 5,000 years and it offers layer upon layer upon layer. It is your practice and as such you can take from it whatever you need at that time, it may be a physical practice, it may be a meditative practice, it may be a spiritual practice and that will change with the fluctuations of life.
Here are our top tips for those at the outset of their yoga journey:
- listen to your body - if you body is resisting a posture never force it
- come with an open mind to fully experience what yoga is
- pay close attention to the breath as this will unlock potential in both body and mind
- every single person in a class will have different ranges of movement, different strengths and abilities - try not to compare yourself
- cultivate yoga as a healthy habit - it is a practice that keeps on giving - it is a way of life