“We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
Anais Nin

First Steps in Yoga

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The idea for this post started with a specific question: “How to find a good Yoga teacher?”. I almost fell into the trap of trying to answer it. It’s an impossible and irrelevant question. It carried a false sense of importance, it is almost an impossible task and has the potential to completely turn you off from approaching Yoga. Instead I would like to offer some ideas that may support you as you take your first steps.

Freedom

Remember that you are always free to make a choice. It is your imperative moral responsibility to make choices. A great place to start is when you attend Yoga classes. Walk away from people who trample that freedom – especially people who claim to be Yoga teachers. Your choices will fuel your progress, good choices will lead you on, mistakes will lead you on too, as you strive for making better choices.

I once attended a class with Mark Whitwell who said one thing that really stuck with me “Don’t look for teachers, look for friends”. You may be challenged to re-frame what friendship is, but when you do, that is a great piece of advice.

Move More, Think Less

The best way to explore Yoga is to practice Yoga. Talking, thinking and reading about it are more likely to lead you into illusion then to teach you anything substantial. Yoga is about knowledge that is awakened in your body, and how that knowledge affects your mind. The only way of tapping into that knowledge is by moving your body.

You have too many options – so many studios, so many styles, so many teachers? Pick one and go. You have only one teacher in your neighborhood, but not sure if her teaching is relevant for you? Go and try.

Give it a chance

You can have all kinds of initial experiences. As a rule of thumb I would suggest that you give a new teacher a chance –¬† 2 – 4 lessons should be enough to give you what you need to make a choice. First impressions are tricky, especially when you are just getting started.

Having said that, I again call upon your obligation to choose. If you feel a teacher is just not right for you, your body is upset, your mind is upset, your energy is disturbed… walk away. This can and is very likely to happen to you.

Listen to Your Body

Please, please, please be attentive to your body. There are too many stories of unjustified and unwarranted Yoga injuries. Stop when your body demands it, try again when you are rested. If you encounter your limitations (and your teacher hasn’t offered you a variation that is more accessible for you) check to see if there is something else you can try, a different approach, a bent knee, a softer shoulder … play around. You are responsible for your own body.

Breathing & Ego

Breathing should be integrated into the practice, without it you are blind in tight corners (which you are very likely to encounter). Ujjayi breathing is, to the best of my knowledge, the most intimate and reliable reference for your state of practice.

If your breath is steady and controlled you are doing fine. If your breath is unsteady, noisy and out of control you have overstepped your boundaries (even if you think you can do more) – stop and rest. If you hear a voice (inside) that is insisting and pushing you to keep going – take a good look at it – there’s a good chance it’s your ego – if it is be thankful. This is a great Yoga moment, stop and observe your ego, eventually it will settle. When it does you can resume your practice.

Beginnings & Endings

To appreciate endings you need to pay attention to beginnings, to have a point of reference. Try to arrive to class a few minutes before the class begins. Take time to arrive, to make yourself comfortable, choose a place in the space, organize your stuff (switch off your mobile phone). It can be a great idea to find a resting posture (lying down or seated) and to let your body settle. If your mind is occupied try engaging it softly and patiently, you may discover  this will enable it to settle a bit. You can observe your body (is anything hurting today, a place in your body you should care for when moving?), your natural breathing, your feelings, your thoughts, your overall energy, anything that comes to you.

When the lesson ends, hopefully your teacher will give you some time to let everything you’ve done sink in and settle (if not, take a few minutes to yourself). Try to recall how you felt when the lesson began, and see how you feel now. Revisit the things you noticed in the beginning, see what has changed. Hopefully you will find that the lesson had a positive affect on your system. Let that information assimilate and inform your choices.

Logistics

Wear comfortable loose-fitting (but not too loose) clothes in which you can move freely. If you are sensitive to head and cold try to dress in layers, keep the clothes you may need close to you.

Try to come on an empty stomach, refrain from eating at least an hour & half before the practice (if you’ve had a heavy meal – then 2-3 hours!).

Make time for your practice so that you are not counting the minutes (counting the minutes tends to veil your experience of presence). Account for the length of the lesson, 10 or 15 minutes for arriving and leaving, driving to and from the lesson and then add a few minutes more.

Make Mistakes

Make marvelous¬† mistakes. Leave teachers you ought to have stayed with, stay with teachers you are better off leaving. Stay attentive and vigilant, watch what drives your choices, try new approaches, remain free to choose, stay happy with your choices. Be serious, be playful… Yoga is your search. A teacher is a powerful symbol and, as the saying goes, your teacher will appear when you are ready. Practice, practice, practice.

You may also want to read Flavors in Yoga to get some background on qualities of different forms of Yoga.

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