I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for eight years. I go through stages, sometime embracing my practice, sometimes running from it. I volunteer at Sol Yoga which forces me to get to the studio and on the mat, weekly. This is a good thing because more than anything else, yoga teaches me about myself every time I strike a pose.
When I lived in New York, I was pretty dedicated to Jivamukti Yoga. I really liked that I could get a hard workout but leave feeling refreshed and invigorated. I was a yoga novice so I just followed along. I loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, as soon as I really began to embrace yoga as a lifestyle, we moved to Jersey. Getting across the river to the Jivamukti studio was next to impossible, so I found another studio and although it wasn’t the same, it was good and it allowed me to keep practicing.
Because my Jersey yoga was so different from Jivamukti, I did a bad, bad thing. I started to think about yoga more than just experience it. Determined to find a studio similar to the one I had left behind, I began researching yoga more and doing it less. Yoga became more of my mind’s discipline – something I knew I should be doing because it was good for me, rather than something that resonated with my body because it felt good to move. Instead of viewing the change in venue as an opportunity to experience different types of yoga, I viewed it as quest to duplicate the results I had already experienced.
I assumed that my favorite yoga was Ashtanga Yoga since Jivamukti is a form of Ashtanga. Ashtanga forces you to move with each breath rather than spending a lot of time in stillness holding the pose. It is perfect for those, like me, that really don’t like spending much time in their body. I could stay up in my head, focusing on the teacher’s instructions. I soon discovered that if my practice forced me to focus on alignment or hold poses for long periods of time, (a.k.a. actually being present in my body for 5 breaths) like with Iyengar Yoga I got annoyed. Rathering than exploring this annoyance, I began ignoring my need for yoga, often finding other things to do like scrubbing my toilet instead of going to class.
So I bought an Ashtanga book and even a video only to realize that being forced to follow a specific sequence of movements didn’t inspire me at all to keep up with my practice. No matter how hard I tried, I never would unroll my mat and do the work. So rather than creating a personal practice, I gave up on embracing yoga and settled for going to class, willy nilly, enjoying the yoga once I was there, but never feeling inspired to do it on my own, at home.
Luckily, Sol Yoga offers various types of classes and through coincidence I’ve found myself over the past month being led by teachers of the Vinyasa style of yoga. Vinyasa, which means flow, encourages you to let your breath move you from pose to pose. Many types of yoga utilize this flow, but when you take a vinyasa style class, the teacher has more freedom to create the class on the fly. The classes are different each time and you don’t get bored. If anything, you are encouraged to tune into your breath and allow it to move your body into the next pose. Again, this is limiting, because the teacher picks the next pose, but still a great guide to help you, perhaps, do some yoga on your own once you leave.
But this week, an amazing thing happened. Anya, our teacher, had us flowing throughout the entire class. Not just between poses but during the pose. We’d move into extended side angle pose only to keep rotating our arms and opening up our heart centers while filling the space between our shoulder blades with breath. And for the first time in a long time, I finally got it. By constantly flowing I could engage my core and let it hold me up in space, focusing only on the breath and letting it move me in the way that resonated with my body.
Eureka – yoga as it is supposed to be performed. I didn’t care if I was doing it right or keeping up with the more advanced students in class, for I was simply listening to my body, pushing it to it’s edge but not too far to impede it’s natural rhythm. I was actually in my body for an entire 90 minutes and for once, didn’t mind being there. I let my breath and not my brain, lead me from one moment to the next.
Usually I wake up each day and go into my workout room. I glance at the Total Gym then over to the Treadmill and decide what I need to do based on the previous day’s workout. It’s all very logical. Yesterday was different, however. Yesterday I collapsed the Total Gym and folded up the deck of my treadmill and unrolled my yoga mat. I lit some candles, turned on the music and simply began to move. I tuned in and let my breath decide which way to go. For 30 minutes I did yoga from down in my body and not up in my head. I elevated my heart rate, used my muscles and stretched my body – and then I ended my practice flat on my back allowing my body to take it all in and prepare for the day ahead.
It was the perfect workout – energizing, yet rejuvenating. It’s how I used to feel all those years ago when I first started yoga and didn’t know enough to think too much about it. Honestly, I can’t wait to do it again.
So if you’re drawn to yoga but confused by the different styles, studios, teachers and techniques, take it from me. Stop Thinking! Just go. Try out different teachers. Trust your body. Give in. Breathe. Even if it’s not your favorite teacher or style or studio. Just focus on being there, in your body and see what transpires. Let me know what you find.