Searching for images of “yoga” or “yoga practice” on Instagram or Pinterest can be quite depressing. All you can find is perfectly fit women in impeccably graceful yoga poses that defy gravity, but thank goodness reality is different.
Yoga is not about perfect poses. It is about making time for yourself. Yoga practice is about enjoying feeling your body moving while your mind is still. And it is about stretching your limits, not trying to defy any known physical law.
Here are some suggestions on how to enjoy your yoga practice without stressing out about making the fool of yourself.
1. Eat lightly 30 minutes before your yoga practice
Nuts, yogurt, or even some juice will do. Consider you could be upside down for a while, then consider where your food can go… If you have not completely digested your food, you could feel quite uncomfortable instead of enjoying fully. So, if you feel that your stomach is taken over your brain (some scientists say our stomachs are our second brain, don’t they?), it’s going to be challenging to stay fully present during your yoga practice.
2. Go to the toilet before the class starts
That’s me. It is a no-brainer to go to the toilet and do your business before heading to your yoga class; however, because I live in front of the gym, I often end up rushing out of the house the very last minute. Only then, I realise that I forgot to go to the toilet. And I can assure you that trying to hold it in the middle of a headstand it is not the easiest of tasks…
3. Breathe into your aching muscles
One of my beloved yoga instructors always tells me to breathe into my muscles, but only recently I managed to understand what that means. Breathing does make it better. So, when you are stretching your muscles and they feel a bit uncomfortable, try and visualise you are breathing into that pain. You need to be focused and calm, and to breathe consciously into the aching muscle. I can assure you that the pain will lessen.
4. Never force it
Pushing your limits is a good thing, but be careful. Pushing too much to the point you feel pain can actually hurt your body, so be always mindful of the pain message your body gives you. It is there for a reason, that is protecting you from possible injuries.
Progress will come with practice, and patience is the result of that path. What’s not to like?
5. It is not a competition!
Being calm and mindful are some of the main points of yoga, right? But who has not competed for the most stable tree pose, the straightest headstand or the most flexible back bend? If you reply no, I am sorry, I am not going to believe you. I am sure that like me, you enjoy the occasional sneaky look at others to see how far they get. I am guilty of being a bit competitive myself, and my worry about being “better” get me exactly where I do not want to be. Yes, into making the fool of myself. Sometimes, I could not avoid the wobble or the fall, and I felt, literally, stupid. Too late I remembered that it is about enjoying what your yoga practice, not being the best at it.
6. Let go of the poses
Postures, poses, asanas, whatever they are called, are not what yoga is all about. I cannot pretend to challenge and win a kung fu master just because I watched The Matrix and I think “I know King Fu”, if that makes sense. The reality is that we may find difficult to fall into a yoga pose, or we may even have experienced falling out of it. The actual benefits of yoga are others.
Personally, I practice yoga because it makes me feel great, and I can see both the spiritual and physical benefits that the yoga practice is having on me as a person.
Yoga changes you. Your body gets stronger, more flexible and more balanced, and the same happens to you on a spiritual level as you progress.
7. Trim your toenails
The beauty of yoga practice is that there is no need for expensive equipment, in fact, all you need is a yoga mat, and tidy feet. Yes, you do not wear trainers because you practice with bare feet, and that means that your toenails are on show. I have seen some pretty Hobbit feet, and personally, it does not look good. So, treat your feet like you are going to the beach, just to be sure.
In the end, we may have wobbly bits coming out of our yoga pants when we bend over, some techniques to refine to look graceful, and we may skip the occasional yoga class for gelato and TV instead, but it is all good. Like anything else in life, even yoga is about progress and not perfection. Striving for perfection is a losing game that will make you feel inadequate, stressed out and unsatisfied.
Through yoga practice, you will realise that life is a beautiful flow, and every “mistake” we make is part of a learning curve that will lead us exactly where we should be. Here and now.