Today was my last day of mandatory yoga. Weird. So weird.
I’ll probably continue to wake up at 5 or 6 am to do yoga before work. I’m afraid if I stop, I’ll fall out of habit and this has been a really good habit. And fun, really. It’s been a great little journey and I’m not done with it yet. I’ve been surprising myself with just what I can do with my body. (And what I can’t. Sometimes that surprises me too. Monkey brain, anyone?)
Because this mission has been a big part of my life, I feel compelled to make a list of things I learned via a YOGA: EVERY DAMN DAY practice.
1: Don’t say I can’t.
When I first started my daily yoga, I was doing a very simple, 40 minute routine by Gaiam. Nothing fancy, but it was a good start. It moved quickly enough that I got sweaty and felt like I was doing something, but not so quickly I couldn’t keep up. I moved on to a really great Detox Flow. I highly recommend either of those DVDs.
Then I discovered Yoga Download and I could really shake up my practice.
Now, after a year of practice, I can fairly consistently pop into eka pada koundinyasana. (Not to brag or anything… I worked hard for this. Holding 176 pounds of Christina off the ground is no easy feat.)
2: Trust your self and your journey.
I came to yoga from a place of doubt. I mean, I was fairly confident that I was a good person, that I had a lot of potential, but I was stuck in limbo. Never quite sure of myself, my decisions or my path.
I feel much more at ease with myself now. Maybe it’s all the Warrior poses, the posturing, the small triumphs when you get into a split for the first time since you were, like, 10 years old. Being able to do new and interesting things with your body gives you a “If I can do this, I can do anything if I work at it.”
3: Taking it easy ain’t easy.
Some mornings I’d wake up and I’d feel like a train hit me. I might have stayed up too late the night before or maybe I danced my rib out of place or maybe I had a really intense vinyasa flow. Some nights I just don’t sleep so well or I’m awake at 5 am so I can do yoga before I leave for work at 7.
On some of those days, I decide to be easy. Don’t push, don’t force, just stretch… relax… keep your eyes closed. I always felt like I was cheating, even though that version of yoga is the kind most people think of when you say the word “yoga.” They think it’s all peaceful chanting and breathing.
I like my yoga to be a workout. I feel blissed out when I’m dripping sweat all over my yoga towel. I feel like I earned that savasana. But yoga means listening to your body and sometimes a sweaty, intense practice is not in the cards. I learned to respect it… even if I don’t like it.
If yoga hasn’t almost brought you to tears at least once a month, you’re probably doing it wrong.
I started yoga after a break-up. It was because I didn’t have a thing that was my thing. I knew I liked yoga, so I decided to make it my thing. I was going to carve out at least 20 minutes a day to focus on myself, my breathing and my well being. I was going to get better at it because that’s what practice does. I set goals along the way. “Hold chair longer!” or “Nail Warrior III.” (Still working on that one.) “Do a split!” “Get into Bird of Paradise.”
Little did I know, I was also going to crack my heart open. You have no idea how many times I cried doing various heart opening poses. It was embarrassing how many times in July and August I was caught off guard by this unpleasant emotion bubbling up through my throat.
(I’m actually quite glad I was doing yoga in my living room at this point. Not because crying in public is bad, but because I felt the way I felt because I kept replaying the fact that I was dumped on the same night I was excitedly and drunkenly working on the Love Song themed CD favors for my sisters bridal shower. Timing has always been The Universe’s strong point. Explaining that to a stranger would have been awkward.)
Yoga will make you cry. It will also make you lose your shit when you pop into that pose you’ve been working on for a while. You will probably giggle embarrassingly loud and inappropriately during class.
If someone’s going to hold your emotions against you, though, give them the finger. It’s karma-neutral. I did the math.
4: You will meet the worlds coolest people at yoga events and in ordinary classes.
I met some of my favorite people in my new yoga-community via yoga events. The Detox Retox at the Federal Taphouse, for example. I spent approximately 7 hours bullshitting with the best people in the Harrisburg area over yoga, fries, and beer. (Beer brain combined with yoga brain is an incredibly strong combination.) I discovered one of my regular studios thanks to the Detox Retox. I met two great teachers that day (and the guy who would eventually free me of my virginity). That day actually changed my world in a ripple effect sort of way.
It’s incredible what one conversation can lead to. That interconnectedness they go on and on about? It’s real, guys! It’s real.
5: Find a lot of teachers.
I’m a studio hopper. Not because I’m disloyal. No, that’s not the case. I’ve realized that each teacher I have, even one’s I’m not fond of, teach me something. How to breathe through discomfort, how to take a leap of faith, how to push my weight forward so I can “fly” my feet off the ground. How to listen more closely, how to invoke the powers of Ganesha to move the obstacles in my path. (I think it’s really about empowering yourself so you can move the obstacle or change your path. Ganesha just gives you the courage to do it because he’s so rad and has an elephant head.)
Each teacher you encounter will teach you something… even if that something is “Kundalini yoga is not my thing” or “If I move my eyes and then move my head, I can keep my balance a little more easily.”
Here are just a few of my favorite yogi places and people. (In no particular order.)
6: It’s okay to cuss.
I don’t know who made the rule that yoga was all peaceful all the time. It’s not. Making that monkey mind stop is hard work. Just when you think you’ve got it under control, you lose your balance in half moon and, before you know it, you’re cussing like a sailor.
It’s okay. Shit. Just let it out, take a breath and try again. Cuss again. Fuck it, who the hell cares. Just keep trying. The way I see it, if you’re cussing, you’re breathing.
7: You will need to fart.
It’s going to happen too. It will probably happen in a small class. It will be you, the instructor and one other person and you will fart. Hopefully it’s not a smelly one and if it is, hopefully the other people are adult enough to not say a word. They will fart at some point too. Maybe not in that class, but just you wait… they’ll be in a bikram class doing locust (is that a bikram pose?) and it will let loose… in a 110* room.
Not that I know from experience.
7a: On that note, DO NOT EAT BEFORE CLASS!
If you must eat, eat light. Eat something that is stomach friendly too. Do not eat your Meemaw’s chili before a power yoga class. See above. You will be clenching your ass cheeks so tight you’ll look like you have a Barbie ass. It is not a good look in yoga pants. It is also not a good feeling.
8: Have fun.
Yoga is not suppose to be stressful. I know I said it’s okay to cuss, but that was because yoga is not suppose to be stressful. Don’t hold in your stress. Say fuck, laugh about your fall from grace and make sure you smile. I love when the instructors remind us to smile. We concentrate so hard to keep ourselves upright that we forget this is all just life. Striking Birds of Paradise isn’t what makes you a better person. Nailing handstand is awesome, but it’s not what people will remember you by when you leave this world.
9: Go upside-down.
I know I just said nailing handstand isn’t the worlds most important task, but going upside down is very important.
All the serious benefits aside (getting oxygen rich blood to your brain, boosting immunity, etc), going upside down is a ridiculously good time.
Think about when you were a kid. You played on the monkey bars, you hung right side up, upside down, you probably did crunches without realizing you were working your abs. You stared at the ground and you weren’t afraid. (No one told you to be except for those weird teacher who were walking on the tanbarked ceiling. What do they know?)
Going upside-down is so much fun. I highly recommend taking an aerial yoga class, if you can find one, otherwise, practicing headstand (tripod or supported head stand) at a wall gets the job done. Practicing hand stand kicks at the wall is fun (and an incredible workout!). Simply doing a wide legged forward fold will flip your perspective upside down.
We need to remember that feeling… the feeling like gravity went all topsy-turvy… We can fly, the floor is lava and we’re hanging from the clouds to float above it.