I remember in my first ever yoga class, the teacher demonstrated some postures that were beyond my wildest imagination for my body to ever be able to get into! The regular classes I attended after this and up until my teacher training, were not particularly physically challenging, they revolved a lot more around making the practice fun and joyful, creating a safe space where you could close your eyes and work on drawing your attention inwards. It was a restorative yoga class for women that really made me fall in love with yoga, I worked harder to try and be still and listen to my body without comparing myself to anyone else in the room, rather than trying to navigate my body into the physical postures.
I went on my intensive teacher training course in India and became a qualified teacher, all without being able to do a headstand, handstand, an arm balance or many of the poses which are considered ‘more challenging, advanced and beautiful’. Having never focused on the advanced poses before, and suddenly being surrounded by other trainees who could often do them, I became focussed on achieving headstands, a full wheel and more of the advanced poses, I also joined Instagram… I think part of me believed I wouldn’t be a good enough teacher if I couldn’t do them. This continued into my first couple of months teaching, until I remembered that this just wasn’t the point of yoga at all. It really doesn’t matter if you can’t find your way into a perfect headstand or pincha (forearm handstand), in fact, nearly all the benefits that yoga teaches us you get from an inversion, can be achieved by just doing the poses against a wall! The first time I straightened my legs in a headstand away from a wall, I fell backwards and broke a fireplace… I probably wasn’t ready yet!
Studying Ashtanga, learning the primary series and bringing variations of it into my self-practice and my teaching, has started to give me the strength, so that I am now, much more naturally beginning to develop into some more advanced poses. If that is what you are aiming towards, then in a cheesy yoga philosophy, I would say try and focus on the journey there, practise Ashtanga (maybe with me!) close your eyes when you are on your mat, forget about the perfect warrior pose and the person next to you and try to bring more focus to your breathing and your mind. Believe me, the amount of vinyasa’s in the Ashtanga Primary series will build your strength in no time! Each time you try a pose or a bind that you can’t do, don’t be embarrassed to use a prop, or ask your teacher for advice on other variations that give the same benefits so your body might slowly ease itself towards it.
Often in yoga classes, we may look to those who appear the strongest and most physically advanced as having developed the highest yoga attainment. Whilst their physical feats are impressive and can be beautiful to see, this is rarely ever the full story. They may be ballet dancers or gymnasts and their beautiful binds may be assisted by hypermobility; the chances are that, their mind still runs through the same patterns of judgement and comparison that yours does. As challenging as it can be to develop a stronger physical practice, it is nothing compared to the challenge of looking at yourself internally and understanding yourself.
Remember always, that the physical practice is only one small element of yoga, and it can be fun! Don’t take it too seriously, don’t compare yourself to anyone else, jump, fall and laugh, and in a true yoga style, enjoy the journey!
Join me for some playful Ashtanga on Tuesday’s 19.15-20.15. We will give advanced postures a go, but even I might be falling over so no pressure!