Where Do I Start With Yoga?
Inspired by Amanda Miller Littlejohn’s recent appearance on the Wharton School of Business “Women@Work” podcast, I started to rethink how I present my expertise on yoga. Littlejohn stated that we shouldn’t be thinking so much about what we’re good at and what we know as much as what our customers are asking. (Seriously, check her out, she’s dope.)
The most frequent reaction I get when I state that I teach yoga is “I could never do yoga. I can’t even touch my toes.” This statement is often combined with an assertion that they don’t know where to start. In that vein, today’s post is going to provide a starting point to those who consider yoga and think “Where do I even start?”
Start Inside Your Head
I’ve written about how I think social media skews our idea of what yoga looks like. Your practice, especially as a beginner, will not consist of floating into handstands in hidden alcoves on sandy shores. You will be sweaty, kind of clumsy and possibly forget your right and your left. Make peace with the idea of looking silly to yourself and others. Nine times out of 10, no one is paying attention to you and the bead of sweat that landed in your eye that you’re furiously blinking away. Most people, including me, go to class to work on themselves, not to judge what’s happening on other people’s mats.
Let’s back it up for a second, away from the idea of sweating and getting physical. Yoga is more than the postures you do in class, combining movements and breath. There is much to learn in suspending motion and focusing on one action. Find a comfortable position (Mountain, Child’s Pose, Savasana, Easy Pose), allow your eyes to close gently and start the work of blocking all outside distractions. Put your phone on mute, turn off Netflix and bring your attention inward, to your breath entering and exiting your body. I am a fan of resting a hand on my chest and another on my belly, as the sensation of my rising and falling chest gives me something to focus in on. The great thing: you don’t have to do this for long. Start with 120 seconds, two minutes, of removing the external distractions. Increase gradually, and forgive yourself easily if you lose focus. None of us are perfect at meditation – except maybe the monks who have bad reception in the mountains.
I understand that yoga can be intimidating. I teach it, I take classes, and I still can feel inadequate from time to time. I feel like I should be better, stronger, bendier. We’re human and we are all learning how to be kinder to ourselves. One thing I will never stop doing with yoga is having fun. Simply put, my body is amazing, capable of more than I ever thought I could do, and much of the respect I have for it came from being in a yoga studio. I firmly believe that yoga (all physical activity, really) helps you form a bond with your person, your essence and the energy you put out into the world. So every once in a while, whether in Happy Baby or balancing in Warrior 3, pull up the corners of your mouth.
As I like to say to my students: Smile, it’s just yoga!
What advice would you give to a new student? Sound off in the comments, teachers and students alike.