This weekend at a lunch invitation at the table the conversation turned to what you do as there were a few new faces around the table. I am yoga teacher and chef, I explained and the immediate response as usual is firstly disbelief, I am a kapha body and most can’t imagine me doing even a forward bend and then follow the “yes, I always wanted to do yoga, where do I start?”
And, my advice is always the same, find a good beginner’s or foundation Hatha yoga class where the class is sympathetic to you and your body, go with an open mind and heart and stick to it for at least 3 months before you decide yoga is not for you.
Invariably, they don’t always listen.
Most decide that they can’t make the designated beginner’s class as the time slot don’t suit them or some other excuse and they go to an intermediate or advance hot Bikram or Asthanga class and walk away wondering why anybody ever subjects her/himself to that kind of torture.
Others find an intermediate or advanced class, go and go until it’s not entirely torture anymore, but inevitably develop bad habits like holding sloppy postures or taking shortcuts. Bad habits lead to injury, injury leads to disillusionment, and disillusionment leads to skulking back to the gym classes with a completely wrong impression of what yoga is supposed to be.
Some do take my advice and start with a low impact or no-heat beginner’s class. In the 21 years that I have been doing and teaching yoga it has been my experience that everyone who I allowed to join my advanced classes as a beginner, don’t last and they never return to yoga. Those who stick are those whom I started out as beginners, I have build them up and slowly allow them to do more yoga. There is much to learn and to understand and this is the purpose of my beginner’s class, to slowly serve as an induction for at least a year into yoga and to build you up according to your body and where you are.
Here’s why new yogis need to start as beginners:
- Yoga is a skill you learn
If you were going to the gym for the first time, you can’t just walk in and start using the equipment and lifting 100kg weights, you will hurt yourself. Just as you need guidance and an instructor to show you how the equipment work and give you a plan according to which you must develop, the same goes for yoga. You need time to learn the asanas, the lingo, the rules and limitations of your body and this is a time consuming exercise.
During the first month or so of your yoga practice, you will be watching and learning more than ever before in your life. In the beginner’s class everybody is in the same boat, and this makes the class easier actually. Give your teacher a chance to show you, listen and learn and remember. Be patient. Be humble. Be present. Yoga, more than almost any other activity, is about non-competition. It’s about meeting your body where it’s at, no matter what anyone else around you is able to do.
- Yoga is different.
We are all beginners for the rest of our lives. I learn every week something new, as I grow older now, I have to learn how to adapt my practice to suit my body and age. There is no end goal in yoga. In the beginning you arrive at a class due to a back ache or you want to increase flexibility or you want to loose weight, doesn’t matter, be open, your expectations will change as you do yoga. Your learning curve is forever in yoga, there is no end to what you will discover and learn. Start at the very beginning and be ready to never stop learning. If you do anything less, you will be robbing yourself of the limitless lessons yoga has to offer.
- Yoga injuries suck.
Period. If you rush your own process, over-exert, ignore your pain, or compete with your classmates, you’ll almost certainly get hurt. And you’ll blame yoga, probably never return to it, and that will be a darn shame. The beginner class is sympathetic, it allow you to do what you can with what you have. There is now pushing, no forcing, just allowance for slow evolution at your own pace.
- The breath is the thing.
Pranayama is the in and out breaths I teach you with every asana. Most of us need to learn again how to just breathe in and out, this is a skill that you must re-learn again. Starting slow will prove that to you. A good beginner class instructor will remind you of the breath frequently, encourage you to return to your breath, and remind you to rest as much as you need.
- You risk missing the point.
When you start in an advanced or intermediate class you risk missing the point of yoga. An advanced class may be so intimidating, too much for you to take in that your mind and heart goes into shutdown mode and you miss the beauty of yoga. All you see and remember was how hard and difficult it was, the intense pain you experience two days later, resentment against me as a teacher because I don’t want to allow you to do more that once a week yoga and between all of this, you are missing the beauty of yoga. The purpose of yoga is to find focus. The purpose of finding focus is to find peace, and to keep growing within that new peace.
This isn’t to say that all the other things you thought yoga would do for you won’t come to pass. Because of yoga, I am stronger than I’ve ever been and rarely get injured anymore. Because of yoga I don’t have agonising back ache anymore and the list goes on.
But none of those things will happen if yoga becomes just another of a long list of things you “have to do” to lose 10 kilos or to heal your back. Who needs another one of those? If yoga becomes something you have to recover from because you over-did it, it can never become the wonderful nurturing thing you do for yourself.
And that’s what it’s supposed to be.
New Beginner’s Class 2019
Start 8 January 2018 | 17:30 – 19:00 | Queenswood, Pretoria | Cost R330 pm
To Enroll, send me an email from the Contact Page.
I am not going to use this post to sing the praises, the headstand or any inversion for that matter. There are enough articles on the net that do that. Just Google “headstand” and you will find the one site after the other that will tell you of the many benefits. There are also many contra-indications and one of them is that the headstand is not recommended for people with high blood pressure. I am suffering from high blood pressure and I am on medication, as my doctor once said to me, as long as the blood pressure is under control, you can pretty much do any yoga asana you like. I am following my doctor’s advice and I do at least once a week a headstand for a few minutes. I belief it does help to manage my high blood pressure.
However, this post is about an aspect, a benefit of the headstand or inversion of which very few article will refer to. I want to start at that amazing event in every human’s life, being conceived and born into this world with your unique set of karmas & samskaras and reincarnating into a life full of endless possibilities. However to be born into this life, we need to leave the comfort and safety of our mother’s womb and this is where an amazing evolutionary event happen, we need to do a headstand to basically get into this world! Jip, think about it, you were born into this world upside-down. An inversion was the very first thing you did to enter this life.
And this is where the miracle of life already starts, in order to enter this world, we had to turn our world around. In order for you as a new human to this planet you had to change not only your physical position to enter this world, but also your mental view to prepare your self for the challenges of this life.
Say hello to your dose of endorphins when you do an inversion. Yes, the brain releases feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins when you invert your body and this in turn assist you to be calm and collected when you need to make those big important decisions.
Apart from changing your point of view, an inversion help us to concentrate and to really focus on what is at hand. It help us to sustain our concentration and to direct all our energy to the challenge or obstacle in front of us. An inversion align the mind in such a way that we can then think creatively about the issue in hand and find a solution flowing from a space of inner calmness.
Increased body awareness.
Ever get into an asana and think, I have no idea where my feet are right now? Inversions are notorious for this. However, inverting your body not only invert the body and your awareness of your body, but also your mind. Your mind has to literally think differently when you invert and this is a valuable asset you have in problem solving. Figuring out where the body is in space is a beautiful practice in cultivating spacial awareness. Figuring your problems out while there, that is just as special and amazing.
Enhanced focus on the present.
When we worry we usually either retreat to the past to find solace or we rush into the future to seek the solution or to escape. Inversions have the power to bring you into the moment, into the here and now and to confront everything right here and now. It’s hard to do anything else when upside down! Staying grounded, calm, focused, breathing slowly and remaining present are truly the only ways to stick an upside-down asana, but while there, things do change, so that when we come down, our world might look different, we might think different. Inversions release the mind and allow it the freedom to think differently.
Therefore, if you ask me how to approach your problems, how to find a solution, my advice will always be, do an inversion or two.
For most of us, we start yoga and we are so inspired by what we feel and experience during the first few months or even years that we need very little encouragement to motivate us to a dedicated and committed practice. Our bodies react in surprising ways to what we do with it in yoga. Our emotions start to calm down and we feel yoga is our weekly saving grace from a hectic schedule. And the mind, suddenly the monkey starts to just relax and the constant chatter of the mind dies down. We feel content, centred and even happier than before. Yoga works! And you need very little encouragement from anybody to be on your mat week in and out.
Then one morning you wake up and it happened. You feel stuck in your practice. You wish that your teacher would just do or say something today in class to motivate, inspire, and bring back the yoga mojo a little in you. In fact, you start to blame your teacher for not doing enough to move you to your happy and inspired place. You look in every class for validation; you want reassurance that you are still doing it right, that somebody notice your perfect downward dog or your gracefully executed headstand. As gregarious beings, we want to feel noticed and we want feel inspired.
As your teacher, I want to inspire you week in and week out, I want you to know I see you even if you think I don’t. It is a balancing act for teachers to be strict in terms of motivating their yogis to be in class no matter what, because how can we inspire you if you are not there? But, on the other hand we also need to tone down the discipline sometimes as many might interpret it as being too strict, to authoritarian and inflexible, when they need flexibility and tolerance.
A yoga class is not a one-size-fits-all type of practice. There isn’t a single recipe to encourage and inspire yogis. What worked yesterday will not work tomorrow, therefore for me over the years I focus less on the method and more on the ingredients, in other words, who are in my classes. The right ingredients will work together to make an inspiring and amazing dish – same with a class, the right people in each class will motivate and inspire people to come back week in and out. And if a particular class doesn’t work for you anymore, ask your teacher to move. Sometimes I ask somebody to move to another class. Each one of my classes has its own personality and each class is suited to some and sometimes it is not. Doesn’t mean the teacher and yoga doesn’t inspire you anymore, you just need to find the recipe where you will work with the other ingredients.
To get you started, here are a few ways to inspire you, to get to the right group where you will perform optimally again:
Let go of Expectations
Having a healthy expectation of yourself, yoga and your teacher is natural and a balanced outlook will inspire you. But expecting the impossible both from yourself, your teacher and the other yogis in your class is a sure way to kill the inspiration.
Remember your Original Intention
So many times we start doing yoga with one simple intention in mind, over time Ego starts to get hold of us again and we added too many intentions which become tiresome and we start to feel uninspired. Remind yourself again why you started yoga in the first place. Keep that intention alive as it will cultivate inspiration.
Know the Ingredients, Not Just the Recipe
Get to know the ingredients, in other words, reach out to the other yogis in your class. I cannot say this enough, you have a new family in your yoga group, but you need to reach out, be part of the group, and be that one ingredient that makes the recipe awesome. Be awesome when you walk into a class and realise you are part of a very special recipe with other awesome ingredients.
Sharing, Not Just Lecturing
As your teacher I am here to share. And I shall always share freely my advice, my knowledge, my compassion, my teachings, my asanas – I am not your mother, I am not here to tell you what to do and what not. I am here to share and to ensure that your practice evolves you and moves you. And in sharing I trust I motivate and inspire you. You need to find the inspiration and you can only find it, if you are in the class on your mat on a regular basis.
Own your Practice
Own your successes and small victories. When you eventually get something right, realise the magnitude of what it has moved inside you. Inspiration comes from noticing the small little changes after a while and realising that a regular practice makes the difference. You make the difference by being on your mat without excuse. As I always say, there are two reasons why you skip a class: your death and the flu. All the rest is just excuses. Come to class, even after an operation or giving birth, you don’t have to do anything, but being there WILL make the difference you need, because is it all about the energy.
Respect is not a FOUR Letter Word
Respect is a discipline and an attitude in life. Respect is not about appreciation and praise and admiration, but it is about being committed, disciplined and to be on your mat in class. It is beyond rules; it is an attitude that inspires you to be above the need for appreciation and praise. Respect is an inner knowing and attitude that inspire you to belief in yourself, your practice and I am the best I can be.
Yoga is about Growth
Lastly, if you think yoga is about being able to stand on your head or do the perfect cockerel, then your Ego has taken over and you will not feel inspired. Leave the competiveness at home, it kills inspiration instantly. Your Ego is your greatest obstacle to the growth yoga can bring. That constant growth inspires you to do a little more every time. But, if you have lost this motivation, you have also lost inspiration. Rekindle your own inspiration by focusing on the growth aspect of yoga and not the look-what-I-can-do aspect.
As your teacher I belief in the individual capabilities of each of my yogis. Each yogi in my class inspire me to be on my mat and to move and grow my own practice. I can only inspire you if you are in my class.
“As within, so without,” was one of my teacher, Sri Durga Devi’s, favourite teachings. The implications of this statement are far-reaching and it took me many years to realise the importance of her statement so many times in our yoga classes and still today I sometimes find it hard to apply this concept in my life.
When you are on the yoga path, the need for introspection becomes very apparent soon after you have started your first yoga class. Yoga has this wonderful ability to stir things up in you and soon you are confronted with old issues that you might have thought was something of the past. An old friend or foe out of your past suddenly appears again in your life and your first reaction might be disdain for this person and the situation or you may take a deep breath and start to look in the mirror this person is holding up and ask yourself what is it that I have to learn about my Self?
To look in the mirror that is being held up by the other person is not easy. To search for closure or to find that which you have to pay attention to might be an arduous path and one that we would not always like to go down. However, if we do the work we need to, if we look at the reflection in that mirror and start to work on that reflection, we may soon find that we find a fine balance and that balance brings closure with the person or the situation.
Another aspect of this process is to ask yourself constantly who is the doer/witness in this whole process. Let me explain, have you ever had an issue with a person, say a good friend, the two of you talk about it, but you go home and in your mind you are still fighting that friend. You develop arguments, you formulate questions you should have posed to this person and then you also give your answer and so it goes on and on. The other person is not even there, has no interest in this process you are going through and doesn’t even witness this whole fight you have in your mind with him or her. So who is the witness and who is the doer in this whole process?
Most of the time we are the doer and we have to remind ourselves that I am not the doer and that I am just moving among objects in this illusion which we call the world. By observing this aspect, by diserning with the intellect this fine line between doer and witness, we train the mind to become the silent witness and to let go of our attachments to those emotions and people. We become more mindful of what we are doing, why we are doing it and as such living in the moment becomes much easier than we thought.
So next time somebody holds that mirror up, look at the reflection and instead of attaching to it, just be the “Switzerland” of your mind, impartially disern what is happening around you without placing any judgement card on that which you observe. The reflection in the mirror is an opportunity for growth, if we learn to see the reflection and learn from it.