My first semester of college I got really into attending workout classes at my university’s gym. One of the classes that I rarely missed was 11 a.m. Saturday yoga. I had done yoga before, but this class was the first time I regularly practiced and I really found myself enjoying it. Unfortunately, as winter hit and school work piled up, yoga was less of a priority and I lost my motivation.
Since moving back to the D.C. area, I picked up yoga again, attending a class each Wednesday with my mom. Quarantine shifted that class online and instead of one class each week, I’ve started to attend Zoom yoga twice a week. I can tell on Tuesday evenings when it is time for yoga and honestly struggle to keep track of what day it is without these classes. But I’ve also learned a lot through my yoga classes.
The hardest lesson to learn is that everyone starts at a different place. Maybe you’re like me and you watch Instagram yogis doing handstands and complicated twists and you think I can’t do that. And you’re missing that many of those “yogis” are former gymnasts or have been doing yoga for ten years or maybe they’re just genetically gifted. Whatever it may be, I’ve found that the more comfortable I become in my approach to yoga, the less I care about their cool handstands in matching workout sets, and the more I focus on the feeling I get when I finally hold Crow Pose for more than a second. (What’s that inspirational quote about not judging your day one to someone else’s day one hundred?)
In addition to remembering that we all start at difference places, I’ve had to learn that sometimes you just can’t and that’s okay. Though my mother and I share a lot of genes and have generally similar approaches to exercise and yoga, there are moves she can do with ease that I can’t even begin to do and some moves that she can’t do that I can do no problem (despite her longer history with yoga and pilates classes). I’m not one to admit defeat and I generally hate saying that I can’t do something, but sometimes its necessary – both in life and yoga – to acknowledge your limitations. Everyone’s body is different and I can tell you right now that my hips will never allow me to do certain movements without collapsing on the floor in pain.
I guess that’s another thing – it’s okay to push through discomfort, but you shouldn’t be pushing through true pain. If it hurts, something isn’t wrong. I hate Downward Dog because the traditional move kills my wrists. So I modify. And that’s okay. I’d rather modify a move to fit my body than seriously injure myself just to prove a point. This point is pretty applicable to real life as well – sometimes you can push through and sometimes you need to modify.
One of the things I love about my yoga teacher is that she emphasizes that everyday is different. Yesterday is not today and today is not tomorrow. What you could do with ease yesterday may be the most challenging move you do tomorrow. Or maybe you couldn’t touch your toes yesterday, but today, your palm is on the ground. Sometimes you sleep wrong or you get frustrated or you hydrate a little more than usual and all of a sudden your body changes. No two days are the same.
Another of my favorite phrases from our yoga classes is “to wobble is good“. Whenever we’re in the middle of a balance pose and my legs start to shake or I start to lose stillness, my reaction is to give up. But sometimes the shake or the wobble is just engagement – forcing those muscles to get to work. It’s a thousand times easier to wobble and quit than it is to wobble and find steadiness again. Plus if you find that stillness again, maybe next time you’re just that little bit stronger to tackle the next off-balance moment.
Then comes my least favorite phrase from yoga (and all other areas of life): practice makes perfect. I don’t love the sensation of being bad at things or struggling through; I’d much prefer to be naturally gifted. But unfortunately, my genetics are not made for me to jump up into a handstand or balance on one finger. Over the many, many yoga classes I’ve taken, I’ve noticed that I genuinely have gotten more flexible over time. I am stronger and more patient with each pose that I do. And from the first moment on the mat to Shavasana I see a difference in my muscles and in my thoughts. Over time things balance out, because I’ve pushed through that awkwardness and that discomfort (but not pain!). Trying over and over again, with modifications and patience, has made a huge difference.
And lastly, at the core of it all – breathe through it. All of this wouldn’t be possible without breath. Every wobble evens out with a deep breath; every stretch becomes a little deeper with the exhale.
Now maybe yoga isn’t for you (or maybe you’re like my dad who does “back exercises” instead of a yoga class), but I’ve found the lessons applicable both in yoga and in life – figured they might help you too.