Yoga is vast, and in this modern age, the variety of yoga practices available in almost any community can be confusing. Not all yoga is alike. Every student is not alike. We all come to yoga at some entry point and decide what we want from our practice. Some want a physical practice and that’s it. Some want something more - something that addresses the complexity of being a human being. We feel that complexity and need some guidance in getting to it, seeing it and treating it with yoga and mindfulness techniques.
As a studio owner, I spend quite a bit of time counseling people on good entry points. I see the confusion in perceptions of what yoga is and how to practice. I see the confusion in what people think they need, which is often not appropriately aligned with their skills, conditions and intentions.
Most of this confusion is driven by our culture. We are driven by the status of being busy, of how things look and by what all the cool kids are doing. While you can do all of that in yoga classes, you will be missing the mark of yoga to practice balance, stability and flexibility.
Yoga is a way of being, but not in the sense of you having to wear yoga pants all the time, say ‘Namaste,’ or going way out on the Woo Woo limb. Yoga meets you where you are and wants you to be you…the You deep down inside that has been witnessing your entire life as a soul watching the movie of your life.
I find yoga to be like a honey badger. Yoga doesn’t give a fuck if you can touch your toes or not. Yoga doesn’t give a fuck if you don’t look like the person next to you. Yoga doesn’t give a fuck if you are seen in child’s pose. Yoga doesn’t give a fuck what you could do with your body when you were 12. Yoga doesn’t give a fuck if you think you should be doing arm balances on Instagram in 2 weeks. Yoga doesn’t give a fuck about anything external to you. Yoga only wants you to find your way into you as you are right now. Yoga wants you to see more of who you are. Yoga is finding balance, stability and flexibility in the truth of you right now. Just as blatant as that.
Today, I want to share some information on the experience of coming to Yoga and how it can help you find the right practice.
Beginners can expect yoga to be technical and mechanical as the foundational aspects are learned. Where do you put your feet? How do you stand? How do you breathe? How do you move? This foundation has to be laid out to even understand where you are and what you are doing.
As beginners map awareness into the specifics of sitting, standing, moving and relaxing into the now, repetition is a magical tool. It enables the mechanics to leave impressions in the mind so one can follow the breath more mindfully into the experience of the physical body.
As sturdiness in the fundamental poses is practiced, the breath becomes a brighter beacon into the moment and the willingness to be present in the ‘feel’ of it becomes stronger.
Over time and consistency in practice - yes, this is not an instant results kinda thing - beginners start to notice more endurance, stablity, strength and flexibility - not only in the physical, but maybe also in the emotional and mental layers of being - a smidge of something delightful that lingers long after the practice itself is over.
Eventually, the beginners leave the nest of ‘beginner’ practices and venture into other classes. It is my hope that beginners never leave the curiosity and interest that comes with Beginner’s Mind behind.
I really dislike these terms as they are so subjective and relative. How do we really define these terms? Are they based on physical achievement? Are they based on something more metaphysical? How do we measure this? Is it simply Ego or is it a practical guide for the level of instruction?
As a teacher for more than 20 years, I don’t think I know for sure, so I have to go from the approach of safety and compassion.
Let’s look at an All Levels Class. When I was first teaching, I think I interpreted this as sharing my practice and then telling people who were not me how to do less (because they weren’t me) and telling people who were not me how to do more (because they weren’t me). I eventually smartened up and realized it wasn’t about me. (it’s called New Teacheritis)
I eventually evolved into teaching All Levels Classes from the standpoint that this kind of class is holding the baseline of a moderate practice. It is not a Mysore Practice where everybody just does whatever the hell they want to do because they can. It’s not a place for some to get to play in poses offered while others sit back and watch a percentage of the class playing along with the teacher. IT IS a place for everyone to come to this basic place and take the practice to a level that suits their intentions.
Those with less experience and/or less desire for intensity can receive instructions on finding more opportunity to soften physically, energetically, and emotionally without feeling inferior.
Those with more experience and/or desire for more intensity can receive instructions for doing the SAME poses while finding more opportunity to deepen physically, energetically, and emotionally without feeling superior.
I believe, there should be some conditions on intensifying so it isn’t an entitlement, but addressed with compassion and truth. For instance, you shouldn’t be binding in Extended Side Angle if you can’t stack your shoulders in a more moderate variation. If you can’t hold the moderate line, you shouldn’t be taking more depth in the poses.
It’s important to remember that not all challenges in a practice are physical. I think this is where those who are not beginners can really challenge themselves. If you can hold the moderate line in a class and then open awareness to abiding in the poses, broadening the experience to inlcude the emotional and energetic layers of being, and then gracefully going to the next asana, you are doing what I would call an Intermediate/Advanced practice.
So choosing classes should be about holding the line of the class.
At mind|body|fitness yoga you will find these classes hold a moderate line:
All Levels Flow
Yin & Flow
Slow Ashtanga Flow
If you are a beginner, you should attend foundational classes like How To Yoga and Yoga Basics to get the technical instruction you need to do yoga effectively. I recommend 6 -12 weeks. Then venturing out into other classes.
As a beginner, you will also be comfortable in Yin Yoga, Deep Stretch and Meditation - these classes are not beginner classes - they are for ALL LEVELS.
Someone once called my studio a beginner’s studio where you start and then go on to other “harder studios.” Pure ignorance. We are a studio that encourages Beginner’s Mind in all levels of practice and the practice is as deep as you can open your body, mind and spirit into with compassion and grace. We are a studio that practices yoga that meets you where you are in any moment.
The big test on the effectiveness of your practice is how do you feel? Are you feeling balanced, strong and flexible in body, mind and spirit? Do you feel like you just spent time on your mat with yourself? Do you feel like you were able to let go of judgement, competition and expectations to be in what is in the moment? That’s yoga!
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? We want to hear from you.