21st June is Summer Solstice and the day the UN officially recognised as International Day of Yoga. A good day indeed for getting a bit spiritual!
The relationship between a person and their yoga practice is a unique one, and I thought I’d share a bit about mine to celebrate the day. I love yoga because if I get a good class, I’m a blissed out little human for the whole evening afterwards. In London that’s quite rare!
I started yoga because I thought I should. I wanted to be the sort of person who “did yoga”. What a dickhead! But hey- it got me into the studio, so long since forgiven myself this foolishness.
Approaching the start of my yoga journey in true dickhead fashion, I obviously started with that traditional, ancient and humbling practice of yoga called…. bikram.
Yep, I wouldn’t suggest this as the route to enlightenment that everyone takes; from zero yogic experience, to 90 minutes in a very hot room and- at times- weirdly competitive environment!
After spending the first 3 classes gasping for breath in child’s pose, dizzy and angry, too scared to leave the room because the teacher would yell at me, I started to love it. Like a yogi with Stockholm Syndrome, those poses, that repetition, that HEAT- it made a loyal yogi out of me. I used to leave the class feeling positively high. A feeling I’ve now realised was probably dehydration.
But this legal high (and my confidently purchased 10 class pass) kept me coming back. I carried on until got heat rash from 4 classes in a week. Time to find something less akin to down-dogging in a tropical rainforest.
I was actually more nervous about trying a more traditional class than I had been about my first bikram class. But when the heat rash went down, I tried it. The astanga, the vinyasa, the forest, the jivamukti, the dynamic flow;
the rooftop, the workshop, the dru, the Boxing Yoga, the Voga;
the nidra, the meditative, the restorative;
the gong bath.
And it got right under my skin. It made me breathe. It made me think. And more extraordinarily- sometimes it made me think about nothing but the stretch or posture I was doing right at that moment.
I think that was yoga teaching me the art of mindfulness. The power of now. That “moment after the moment” when you suddenly realise you were just thinking about NOTHING and your mind was still for a few weird seconds.
It made me aware of how all the different parts of my body could work together. It made my heart feel happy and free. It made my lungs feel open and it made me feel crazily joyful.
And then there were times that I went into a studio like an excited little bee, waiting for that joy. C’mon, joy, hit me up! And I waited and waited, and finished the class cross and frustrated. I’d gone in for joy, goddamn it! Give me my joy! Why was that class so hard and boring?! Real yogis don’t have crap classes!!
But as I’ve been through a few cycles I this now, I’m realising that the boring and difficult classes- the ones you flump through in a huff- those periods can last a while. But they’re the ones worth sticking at. It’s important not to question them angrily, or hold onto them once you’re done. Because feeling like that means you need yoga in your life right now, and you’ve gotta keep practicing to work through that little knot in your brain.
If you’re in one of those funks right now- and I have been recently- then trust the joy will be back. And it’ll taste even sweeter when you’ve missed it for a while.
My best advice for trying yoga, or becoming the sort of person who “does yoga” is to let the practice wash over you. Breathe and move. Don’t think about it too much while you move. Be conscious of your breath but try not to over-think it. That sounds ludicrous- but when you do it for the first time, you’ll know!
When you have the first ever class that makes you give in and be right there- and you finish in a state of giddy joy, you’ll probably catch the yoga bug too.
And if your reason for starting out is as initially misguided as mine? To be honest, signing up for a class makes you qualified as someone who “does yoga”. You really only need lungs and a body. We’ve all got the tools we need to experience a little joy!