What you need to know about your body & yoga before you start.

Unraveling Tension

Have you ever said/thought/heard your friend say..’I wish I could do yoga, but I’m just not flexible enough’? Honestly if only I had a pound for every time I heard this I would be a very wealthy woman! But it’s ok if you have thought this, I thought this once too but honestly, this is the equivalent of saying you’re too dirty to take a bath, I promise! Feeling stiff? Do yoga. Not flexible? Do yoga. Mind feeling stiff? Do yoga!!

We all come to yoga for different reasons and when I first tried yoga it was because I bought a Groupon for hot yoga at a studio near my mums house, I’d just moved back to Liverpool and we thought it would be nice to try something new together, plus we’d heard it would keep us fit which seems to be the reasons so many people try yoga!

Our first lesson was 90 minutes long, it was absolutely not a beginners class and neither of us could touch our toes or do downward dog, we sweated so much it dripped in our eyes and we slipped off our mats, I absolutely hated probably 80% of it. It was confusing, they said strange words and it felt like everyone else knew what they were doing apart from me! But at the end they instructed us all to lay down, close our eyes, relax our bodies and rest. This part I now know is called Savasana, it’s a gentle relaxation to release all tension at the end of the practice, we shed the postures and movements we’ve done, leave them behind and come out fresh to face the rest of our day.

And so despite slipping and sweating and struggling through it, when we got up to leave the feeling of lightness was second to none. We’re both slightly anxious people by nature and it really released that heavy feeling we so often carry around in our chests. From this moment we were hooked and despite me moving out a few months later to my own house we’ve each continued our practice!

Now the most important thing I want you to remember when you look at your yoga teacher or that person next to you in class who ‘seems to know all the moves’ is that they once had no clue what they where doing, they once just like you, rolled out their mat feeling nervous and wondering what they’d let themselves in for. If we want to take up running we don’t expect to complete a marathon for our first try, nor cook a gourmet meal when we first step into the kitchen and just like these things yoga takes time too. 

So if you’ve never tried yoga, or you’ve only just dipped your toe in the yoga pool there’s a couple of key things I’d ask you to think about as you enjoy this practice;

  1. Yoga is not what you see on instagram

I’m in no way calling out instagram here, it’s a lifeline to my business and connects me with so many wonderful people but we all fall fowl of comparing to others on here and that’s true when it comes to yoga too. So if you’re going to follow your teachers and fellow yogi’s, local and from afar then please remember that most of these have probably been practicing for several years, I also find the majority of yogi’s I come across or admire, who seem to be ‘super advanced’ in the postures, openly admit they practice gymnastics for most of their childhood/teenage years which means they’ve got a massive head start on the of us who can barely touch our toes! As your journey into yoga continues you’ll see there’s much more to if that just these physical postures too!

  1. Try to listen instead of watch

Whether you’re practicing at home or in a studio you’ll likely spend your first few classes cricking your neck to see what the teacher is doing and through this missing what they say, I see it all the time in classes and remember it as a beginner myself! If I go to a yoga class now I try to tune out of looking at those around me and the more I hear the instructions of ‘left foot here, right arm here’ etc. then the smoother I can flow. I’m not denying this will take a little time for you when you’re learning the language of yoga but if you can make it your intention to listen instead of watch from early on your practice will flow smoother much quicker for you. 

  1. Don’t compare to those around you

In yoga we are working always on detaching from our ego, this transfers to many walks of life but in a yoga class its quite literal. When we compare to the person next to us, where their foot position is, how far back they can bend, how open their hips are (the list goes on) we are detaching from our own practice, we’re letting the mind take control and the ego wins. We automatically think that because they are closer into splits than us, or can hold their arm balance longer than us that they’re better in some way, just like we do in all sorts of areas of life (house size, car, money and so on) but we all have different anatomies within our body, meaning some will naturally be stronger than others, some more flexible, some people in the room will be yoga teachers, some brand new, some people will be weightlifters, runners, gymnasts and so on! So by comparing how we look in our posture to them, is like comparing a dog trying to climb a tree next to a monkey (pointless). This ego in a yoga class takes a little longer to step away from for most of us, and a massive advantage if practicing at home is that we cannot compare to those around us. Try when you’re practicing yoga to ‘feel’ the posture, which muscles are activating, which are tensed and could be relaxed, its through this connection to our body and internal focus that we can detach from whats happening around us, and once we do this our practice will develop in a way we couldn’t expect. The detachment from the ego in our mat allows the breath to connect with the body, which helps clear the mind and move us more steadily through our flow. So when you catch yourself comparing, take a deep breath in and a deep sigh out and draw your awareness back to how this posture feels for YOU on this day. Even if you have to do this 10 times, eventually the practice of detachment will stick. 

  1. Your body will vary day to day

This is something I try to remind my students of in class, its true for myself and for all those around us too that some days we can hold warrior without batting an eyelid, no aching arms! Yet the next, we might find one breath in warrior is our capacity and need to give our arms a little flap to make it to 5. Some days I can balance on my head for 20 breaths, others I can’t make it up there at all! Life plays a huge part in your body and we must remember this. If you experience a monthly menstrual cycle this will play a part, giving you more energy or more fatigue from week to week. Things like taking days off to rest, long walks, sitting in the car for a long journey will all impact our body and this will show clear on the mat, maybe that long walk means your heels wont touch the ground in downward dog today, or the 5 days rest you took from your practice mean you now feel really open and bendy! In my opinion this variance in our body from day to day even if we’re repeating the same set of postures is humbling, it reminds us we’re human and that life is going on around us, tune in to your body and let it guide you through your practice. 

  1. Learn the lesson of patience

Not something that comes naturally to me I can tell you that for sure! But one of the biggest lessons we learn though the physical practice of yoga is patience, and it then transfers to so many aspects of our life. When we first start and we maybe can’t touch our toes, we have to bend our knees and use every breath to deepen the stretch into our hamstrings, it might take us weeks, months or even YEARS to touch our toes without bending the knees (yep, I said years) and then once we can, some days we wont be able to again and it can feel like going back a step. Whilst we must work on detaching too much from the physical postures (I’ll talk about this more another day) we of course accept that as humans we like aims, or goals to work to and the physical asana (posture) is what draws most of us in to yoga in the first place! So whist we ‘strive’ to touch our toes or stand on our head, with patience we learn that through dedication to practice, repetition of movement and connection with our breath we can accept that progress takes time and through the waiting we will appreciate it all the more too.. (A bit like saving up all year for a big holiday, how much better does it feel when you FINALLY get on the plane?!).

So with all this in mind, when you decide to roll out your mat and enjoy your yoga practice always try to it mindfully, that simply means with respect to your body and how it feels that day, take into account your energy levels, what you’ve eaten (big, heavy meals can make a practice more challenging) and always practice without expectation, focus on tuning out from the ego and tuning in to your breath without pressure on yourself to ‘achieve’ anything from your practice. The more you let go and ‘flow with it’ then the more fulfilled you will feel at the end. Oh and NEVER skip savasana..it’s the best part!

NB. I first got seriously into yoga around Summer 2017 and for reasons I’m not sure of now I started tracking my progress right from then! Over the next year I deleted many pictures which I really wish I hadn’t but from the early photos I’ve been able to make some side by side images, I’ve done these purely as a visual to show you that I absolutely could not simply ‘do’ all of the yoga postures I can now. It’s taken time and repetition to get me here. I couldn’t touch my toes or hold a downward dog for a long time, so don’t despair when you can’t either as we can all get there (if we want to) with the right amount of time and patience.