A long way down – What I’ve learned from my yoga practice

“Yoga isn’t about touching your toes. It’s about what you learn on your way down.”

This quote by Judith Hanson Lasater has become pretty famous in the last few years. It’s the mantra of every non-flexible newbie yogi:ni who feels like a brick stone between super-bendy classmates. Why has it gained such importance? Especially in the west, yoga is very much about the physical aspect of the practice. Oftentimes, people view it as a sport, as a means to stay fit.

While a consistent asana practice can indeed increase physical fitness and wellbeing, this is not the only aspect of yoga. Meditation, pranayama, mythology – many people nowadays feel uncomfortable with the more spiritual side of this ancient practice. But the “deeper” aspect isn’t only about deities, mantras, and rituals. It is very much about tools to make the everyday life easier.

Some years have passed since I was a newbie yogini who felt self-conscious in her first yoga class and there are some things I’ve learned since then. Here’s a little list.

No one cares if you’re sporty or not

I was never good at PE lessons at school. I didn’t like the type of sports we played and the way they were approached. This led me to believe that I’m “not sporty enough” for any kind of physical activity – even though I used to dance as a child. Despite my dance classes, I always lacked flexibility, which made me hesitant about trying yoga. I was still very self-conscious when I started teacher training, but then I realized: nobody cares. The people around me were way too busy trying to tune out everyone else and focusing on themselves. Beginners are very likely to peek at their peers out of the corner of their eye to see if their neighbor can do more than they can, if can touch their toes, etc. However, the more experience you gain, the less you care. That goes for flexibility as well as for more advanced poses like forearm stands. You can’t do it? No one will make fun of you.

Spirituality isn’t scary

If “spirituality” means Ouija boards and occult stuff for you, then I’ve got news – it’s not about that at all. It’s not even about religion. To me, it’s very much about philosophy. It’s about trying to make sense of stuff, finding meaning behind everyday issues and deeper understandings. There are inspirational mythological stories, beautiful rituals and valuable wisdom. Don’t be afraid to tap into the more spiritual side of your yoga practice! It will enrich your time on the mat and off the mat.

Never underestimate the connection between body and mind

What sounds like a yogi cliché is actually very true. I’ve found it fascinating to develop a closer connection to my body. It enabled me to listen to it better, to read its signs better. When you practice yoga, you learn how to “feel”: How does this movement feel? How does it feel when you’re trying a new pose? How does it feel when you reach your limits? How do you feel when you breathe in different ways? How do you feel before and after certain asanas, pranayamas or meditations? Instead of always complaining about how your body feels, you learn to observe and discover needs that your body is trying to convey. For me, the connection between body and mind is most visible when it comes to stretching. Creating space in your body also creates space in your mind. When my grandpa passed away and my mind felt narrow with grief, it was so much harder for me to do poses I could usually do with ease.

“Yoga friendships” are different

Small talk? Get the f*ck outta here! In friendships between yogis, it gets deep. No topic is off-limits. No matter if you want to talk about mantras, rituals, kundalini awakening experiences or Sanskrit – nobody will think you’re a weirdo! Yogis are not only interested in a lot of stuff that most people outside the yoga scene don’t even know about, but they are also very tolerant. Judging is not really a thing, even though, as everywhere, there are black sheep. Another thing that I find very beautiful is that almost everyone came to yoga because of a crisis, be it physical or emotional. Therefore, it is absolutely normal to talk about your trauma, your pain or your problems – no need to hide anything! The question “how are you?” is actually serious. Where people usually get uncomfortable when you reply with anything other than “fine, thanks”, Your yogi friends will listen to you as you tell them how you hit rock bottom and got back up on your feet, share advice and their own experience. The negative point about that? Conversations with non-yogis about the weather might seem very shallow once you’ve established a yogi group of friends.

Learning is actually fun

Ugh, good god, how I hated studying for school! It was just dreadful and seemed like a waste of time. The problem was that I found most of the stuff I had to learn absolutely pointless. The question “why am I learning this, what would I need this for?” could almost always not be answered in a satisfying way. I always had to force myself to study, I never had the feeling that I really wanted to learn more. This led to the belief that I’m lazy. This belief, on the other hand, made me hesitant about trying new stuff. As I thought I was lazy, I also thought that once I tried something new, I would lose interest quickly and not be consistent with it.

One time, when I came to yoga, I saw the poster on the front door, advertising the teacher training which would take two years. I remember thinking “who the hell is that consistent? Who is disciplined enough to dedicate every Wednesday to teacher training, for two freakin years?” I had those same doubts about being lazy and not disciplined enough when I finally signed up – I had waited so long with my final decision that I got the very last spot in the group – but it turned out, that I wasn’t so lazy when I actually cared about a topic. The stuff we went through at teacher training was fascinating to me: Indian mythology, yoga philosophy, anatomy and the physical aspects of the asanas, teaching them and making them accessible for special target groups. I found myself picking up the books in my spare time because I wanted to know more about all of that. And when it was time for the final exams, I studied super hard – because I wanted to. Realizing that I’m not lazy when something matters to me was a game changer. I was now confident that I could achieve anything I set my mind to, as long as I find some kind of sense in it.

Now it’s your turn – what have YOU learned from your yoga practice? Or, if you’re a newbie, what would you like to learn when you eventually start? Share in the comments!

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