It’s embarrassing but true, I’ve been following beginner yoga classes, online and off, for over ten years. That’s ten years of awkward backbends, timbering tree poses and unsuccessful attempts at pranayama (That’s what your teacher is doing when she holds one hand up to her nose, closes her eyes and counts her breaths. It looks like she’s sneaking a pick or a scratch but it’s really just pranayama). It seems I can locate and exercise every muscle except the one that controls discipline. I’ve picked up and dropped yoga more times than beginners have cursed Downward Facing Dog.
This perpetual lack of commitment has, however, bestowed upon yours truly, the wonderful gift of beginner yoga insight. In a selfless plea to make your entry into the world of asana and Ashtanga a little more graceful than mine, I’d like to share with you three things I think every Beginner should remember.
- Grace is in your mind.
The joy of online yoga classes is no one can see you. Who’s to say as you move into Bridge Pose you’re not looking like Seane Corn on her best day? You, my friend, are alone in your living room with your favorite My Yoga on Gaia video playing on the screen, your pristine yoga mat unrolled and your Lululemon Groove pants rockin’ your thirty-year-old thighs. This is no time to be a realist. As you stretch from one pose to another, never think about how you accidentally swung your hand into your face during a twist. Ignore the gas that escaped during cat pose. Pay no attention to the fact your side bend looks more like a slightly leaning mountain pose.
Stay focused. In your mind, you are on the cover of Yoga Journal. You and your mat are like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – or for a younger reference, like Justin Timberlake and his microphone. You’re smooth. You’re hot. You’re bringing sexy back. You follow your teacher’s yoga flow with the grace of a gazelle. You move from Downward Dog to Plank Pose to Cobra like a swan glides on the water. Your bends are poetic. Your poses hypnotic.
When your imagination falters and you can’t help but notice that your legs are shaking in Chair Pose and you’re pretty sure you look like a turkey in Eagle Pose, here’s a secret, there’s always Warrior Pose. Everyone looks amazing in Warrior Pose. It’s a magical pose. Well, that and Corpse Pose. You will always master Corpse Pose.
- Don’t skip ahead.
As I mentioned earlier, no one can see you through that screen. There is no reason to compete with titans of yoga or your yoga teachers and the yogis they invite to act as beginners in their videos. You’re not impressing anyone when you click on an intermediate class. Keep your ego in check. You, my fellow yoga beginner, are the equivalent of the high school outcast. You don’t know enough of the lingo to hang out with the cool crowd. You can’t just tack on ‘yana’ to the end of random sounding vowels and expect to blend in.
The smartest thing for you to do is accept your beginner status and wait until reality has caught up with your ambitions. There are, however, a few signposts that will indicate when you are ready to move up another level. When you can stay in Downward Facing Dog for half the amount of time the teacher does, you can start to dream about moderate classes. When you understand one of the twenty Sanskrit words the teacher subtly drops during class, you can browse the moderate videos. But only when you can do an entire beginner video without inventing your own easier poses or fast forwarding through the meditation can you press play and enjoy your first moderate level class.
- Have fun.
This is the final and most important point to remember. You’re starting something new. Be easy on yourself. Whether you keep moving forward or continuously come back to square one, mastery isn’t achieved in a day. Like most endeavors in life, you’re likely going to struggle when you first attempt it. If this isn’t the case and yoga comes to you like music to Mozart, pretend you’re like the rest of us and force a pose every now and again. Let out a little groan or lose your balance once during your practice. Count it as your random act of kindness for the day.
The rest of you beginners, listen to your teachers. They will say things like, “Every day is different. Listen to your body. You may not be as limber as you were yesterday. That’s an opportunity for acceptance.” It’s true they don’t know that your limbs were just as uncooperative yesterday as they were today, the wisdom is still sound. Embrace your limitations. Love your body. No matter what condition it is in, it doesn’t define you. And when your yoga teacher ends the class with a Namaste, hear what he is really saying. He is bowing to the Divine spark that dwells within you. You are neither rookie nor guru. You just simply are and it is magnificent.
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