Four years ago I reached the “boiling” point in my life: stress at school, break-up with the boyfriend and parents’ constant preaches pushed me to erect another Great Chinese Wall between me and the world. I gained 20 pounds, got isolated from friends, slacked taking care of myself and got drowned in the ocean of problems. I was broken and lost. Hugging an ice cream bucket, which seemed to be the best antidepressants for me on those ugly days, every night in front of TV, I tried to zone out of the truths of the real world.
Now looking back, it’s hard to believe my friend convinced me to join a yoga class with her. I still remember the moment I found myself standing in the mirror room: I lost my persona somewhere behind a reckless and dull creature staring at me. The first two months of doing yoga exhausted me so much that a couple of times I left in the middle of the class slamming the door. I didn’t lose any weight and my body didn’t look any different. Everything irritated me, and stress kept on building up. Spending hours at the yoga studio seemed a useless waste of time, energy and money. All the ‘feedback’ I got from the downward facing dog and the warrior I and II and III was just a pain. It took me two years to realize the purpose of yoga and constant muscle cramps. It’s not much a work out as most of you would think. If your goal is to lose weight fast, build muscles and sweat out toxins, then yoga is a bad idea. It takes time and devotion to see the results. Now I can confess that after all the sore I’ve been through, my mind has maintained peace, my body became more flexible and balanced, and strength appeared in my soul. There was no longer any stress in my life. And yes! I fell in love! In love with … yoga.
My journey of becoming friends with the ‘animal farm’ of various postures turned out to be if not too short then definitely easy after I’ve mastered 7 main rules of a true yogi. If the word ‘yoga’ already scares you, or evokes disillusionment, I will prove you wrong. If you follow the magic seven [that’s what I call my yogi’s seven rules] you’ll see the unpredictable results within a couple of months. To enjoy yoga there’s no need to be either flexible as an athlete or strong as a hunk. A little bit of patience and trust in your body is all you need.
1. Find a good teacher. Yes, it is important to discover the right person, who will inspire and guide you through the journey of finding peace in mind. During my four-year practice I’ve changed at least a dozen of teachers. Now I’ve been trained by Christina, yoga instructor at LA Fitness in Glenside, for over nine months. Her methods of teaching and individual attention to every student make me want to come back to her class three times a week. She agrees that a good teacher can change the whole perception of yoga: they will either make you start loving it or completely ruin your expectations. “To find the teacher that will guide you is hard. You need to change many studios and attend many classes until you find the right one.” Christina’s approach to inspire people is honesty. “Through my training, I don’t push people to get to the point of ideal picture. They should have it in their head and reach there by themselves. I’m here just to guide them to that point.”
2. Focus on breathing. Now you have a good instructor, who will lead you through your journey. But first you should master certain techniques to fully enjoy it.For most people breathing may sound boring, but remember, we exist thanks the ability to breathe. I didn’t want to admit a huge role breathing plays until I choked in my reversed triangle and collapsed on the mat. “We are not under the water to hold the breath,” reacted the instructor to my public failure. Breathing provides energy to sustain the position longer and helps the mussels’ tissue stretch. “Yoga originally was just breathing,” states Christina. “Poses were added later on. If it really becomes a meditation to you, everything is getting easier. You’ll feel much stronger.” Besides, counting the breaths helps to focus on the practice and wipes away the problems from your mind, not for a long time though, but for an hour for sure.
3. Don’t bring your problems in the classroom. We are all busy. It’s a fact. We barely have enough time to do the laundry and the food shopping. School, work, family, friends literally swallow our minds giving more and more thoughts, problems and good ideas, sometimes. These things will disturb your concentration during the class and will make you want it to be over as soon as possible, so that you could come back to the real world. The point of yoga is to purify your soul and mind from the negativity you come across. Melissa Holzman has been teaching yoga for ten years and now owns a yoga studio in Margate, NJ. Every day she does her best to teach the students to look inward during the practice. “Yoga combines your mind, body and soul. As a yogi progresses through his practice, a unity is developed with the body and mind. This union helps to set the soul free to experience another level of understanding of being. To achieve this takes time, but believe me, you’ll do it faster with your mind free of daily routine,” she suggests. There are no good days for yoga, which means it’s hard to erase everything from your mind before stepping on your yoga mat. What you can do is to come ten minutes before class and just sit with your eyes closed to slow down, concentrate on breathing and zone out from the world behind the doors.
4. Leave your ego outside. With the problems mentioned above don’t forget to leave your ego behind the doors as well. The number one reason why people get disappointed in yoga so fast is that they, first of all, get upset about their physical abilities. Why? Because they keep on looking around and see that someone is holding the eagle better, or does the headstand you only dreamed of before. It’s time to grow up and accept the reality that everyone is different. You are what you are. Besides that, your body may feel different too. Today you are more flexible than the day before, but your balance can be worse. Christina never stops mentioning this fact in the beginning of every class, “It’s not a competition. Don’t compare yourself to someone else.” She explains that most people get caught up in that and then refuse from their practice to get to that ideal. “Focus on you, it’s all about you,” she recommends.
I have attended classes with a hundred of people in the same room. That’s where it’s getting really tough not to pay any attention to your neighbors when they are breathing right into your face and you watch their sweat dripping on the mat. The distance between you narrows to one foot. You unwillingly start looking at them and judge their proficiency. Stop it! We are not at the fashion show surrounded by spotlights to look flawless. Focusing on breathing helps to be more devoted to practice. Another suggestion is to reserve a spot somewhere in front of the room, so that you could see yourself in the mirror. This way you wouldn’t care what’s happening behind you and can correct the poses looking at your reflection without instructor’s assistance. Pretend you are like Narcissus who fell in love with his image in the water. Your goal is to fall in love with your body, at least for an hour, and not to freeze with admiration staring at your neighbor’s perfect frog. You might do it at some point as well.
5. Listen to the instructor. As we’ve decided before, the goal of the practice is to focus on your body. You’d better enjoy your image in the mirror, instead of turning the neck all the time gazing at the instructor. A great advantage of yoga is that 99% of teachers describe in details the pose you should eventually find yourself in. Besides, most instructors don’t show poses and just walk around the classroom to correct students. What you have to learn is to listen. Maybe the first time it’ll be hard due to the lack of the knowledge of names of poses, but, believe me, flowing from one pose to another a teacher will make sure to explain to you where exactly to place your hands and how to twist your legs. Don’t panic and concentrate on your teacher’s voice. Remember, he is your guide, and you should rely on him.
6. Don’t look at the clock. As I’ve mentioned above there’s no need to do any unnecessary movements with your head. It’s bad for your spine, especially if you twist your neck 180 degrees all the way back to look at the clock hanging on the opposite wall. Yoga class usually lasts for about an hour, sometimes for an hour and fifteen minutes, when a teacher provides extra time for the shavasana, the relaxation pose. If you keep on looking at the clock every second, time won’t go faster, so relax and enjoy your practice. If you focus on what you are doing, class will be over within a snap.
7. Make it a part of your routine. Now since you’ve got acquainted with almost all the rules on how to make your yoga practice enjoyable, it’s high time to fit it in your schedule. Ideally you should practice yoga every day, but on the other hand, we don’t even have breakfast that often. What I would recommend is to figure out at least three days when you definitely are able to make it to the class. It may sound like a submission, and it really is. If you want to see results and feel good [not only feel the pain from the class, as your mussels forget the stretch, if you do yoga only once a week], you should sacrifice something and find that extra hour.
“Some take it upon as a religion, some as a workout, and others as a way of life. But, no matter which stage you are in today, yoga is about inner peace and being at one with all existence,” asserts Gio Randazzo, a young yoga instructor, for whom yoga has become a part of a daily existence indeed. He truly believes it can be a good work out if you practice it with conscience every day.
I agree with Gio. Now I look in the mirror and see a happy person. Yoga helped me to open up my body, improve my flexibility and my balance. The desire for a change has ruined the Great Chinese Wall I once erected. Yoga has enlightened my inner self and continues keeping me in shape. It’s become a part of my life. Though I feel much better, my problems didn’t disappear and my life is still crazy busy; it’s my attitude that has changed. Following the magic seven I gradually found peace with the world, in spite of all the mistrust and underestimation of the child pose in the beginning of my journey. You can do it too, just be patient and enjoy!