What I Learned from Practicing Yoga

After my first yoga blog I was almost certain the next one was going to be about the asanas I had “mastered”, but contrary to my self-assurance the practice taught me something else. I can proudly say I have completed four weeks of yoga, and the lessons learned in this brief period of time go beyond the yoga mat or the yoga studio. Here is my testimony after a month of practice.

Yoga Group

1. You are not alone: In a room full of strangers and being a “freshman” you might think it is your practice, and it is only your responsibility to find balance and endurance on high planks and downward facing dogs. The first half of my first day I was feeling that way. It felt too complicated and gruesome to go through a Hot Vinyasa class mainly because I saw the others as my antagonists. I felt pity for myself because the others seemed flexible, agile, balanced, and all of them had a pretty nice posture. I could see through the mirror how they drew perfect lines with every asana while I struggled trying to hide my curvy behind to look like a “real” warrior. Internal criticism kills you. Fortunately it didn’t take me too long to feel connected with the group energy. My first instructor, Kyle Conti, was telling stories about himself and life, and by doing so he was making us part of his reality. I still remember his words, You are the boss of your mat. These seven words took me from self-pity to action. It is not about showing others what you are capable of doing, but “to get deeper understanding of yourself through the asana practice” as Kyle said the day I met him. The group supports your sincere efforts as we support sincere efforts in our daily life. The same happened when I arrived to this country. It was the entire community who pulled me through.

2. You are stronger than you think: I can’t count how many times I have wanted to go into a child’s pose for the rest of the class, but haven’t. Again, one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is “I can’t do this,” to realize not only that I can but I have been able to endure. The point is you’ll never know until you try, and you’ll never get better if you don’t push yourself a little everyday. That little can be staying in an asana for two more seconds or lifting your hips a little higher when doing the bridge. In relationships (especially the close ones) you might have to endure tension, an illness, or something worse. You are strong, you can do it, it will be over soon, and you will be stronger afterwards.Bridge

3. Changes happen one step (or day) at a time: Do not rush. It’s not a competition. On my first  blog I had talked about how I had improved so much in just three days. It was true, but muscles need to readjust, get comfortable with the new movements and weight shifting. A week after I wrote that I felt like the first day. I couldn’t accept it, I wanted to go forward, always. But I am changing inside and out and if I decide to continue, this is a process I cannot accelerate.  Listen to your body, it needs time the same way as you need time when you enter a new situation. I am moving forward even if I think I’m stepping backwards sometimes. Lying or standing on my mat I’m becoming a warrior one asana at a time.

4. You are never too old to try something new, you will be surprised: Think about it. When was the last time you did something for the first time? There is a wide range of ages in these classes. Myself, being 45, might have felt that I didn’t have the flexibility, the strength, or even the time to do something like this. However, my body is becoming more flexible and stronger through the practice. And it has extra benefits. I have met new people who have been so kind and encouraging I feel that I could do anything! The brain feels the difference. There is definitely more oxygenation, and I celebrate my little triumphs as I start finding a sense of self-awareness.

5. It’s okay to take a break (child pose): Because of my competitive spirit a few times I have felt the urgency to catch up with the others (refer to point 3, this is not a competition). Like in other aspects of my life I have rushed to show others that I am better. Bottom line is sometimes you need to stop, close your eyes, and breathe. What could be more perfect than the child pose (or balasana). Here you can only look into yourself, nowhere else. Here your body is in contact with your inner emotions and frustrations. Here you slowdown to a full stop. You can even fall asleep. Strenuous circumstances sometimes call for a nap, and that’s okay. The world will continue spinning, take care of yourself first.

Child poseChild pose side

6. Breathe: In my first class I found it difficult to attend Kyle’s call, “Deep Breath.” In my naiveté I was going from one asana to the next (the best as I could) the way I knew how to, forcing my body into movements without giving it the time or the oxygen to be able to perform. We do exactly the same in our daily routines. We go through the motions in hopes that we can survive the days or the new circumstances without giving our mind, body, and spirit the tools to keep going, and only by the grace of God we actually “survive” those situations sometimes causing some collateral damage. Breathe before making important decisions. Breathe before talking to your loved ones. Simply breathe, you will feel better and your body and the people around you will thank you.

7. Life will shake you, it’s your choice to stay: My mother died unexpectedly in 2012 from an asthma attack. This event could have carried cataclysmic consequences due to the strong ties we had developed during the last few years of her existence. I withdrew from life, friends, and Zumba class not comprehending why this earthquake had started and the ground was still shaking. Likewise though in much lower proportion, when you are doing a half-moon, a standing split, or a reverse plank, depending on the length of the asana you will probably start shaking. It is this soft movement what is allowing change. Embrace it. Endure. Be transformed.

8. Namaste (namas: bowing, te: to you): At the end of each practice everyone turns to the center to bow to the teacher and to every other individual saying “namaste”. Here we regard our neighbor as important or even more than ourselves. This demands humility and respect.  Be humble in all circumstances. Respect your surroundings and the people who cohabitate the planet. So many battles and wars could have been prevented if we Namaste from our heart. The same way, at home, treat your children with kindness, they are just starting to understand life through your actions. Respect the animals, they have the same right to be here as you. Do everything out of love.

Peaceful and humble warriors out there. It has been an honor to meet you. May God guide you and give you strength.

Namaste ♥

Advertisements

What It Takes To Try Something “New” And What Happened To Yoga For Beginners?

Edwin

Lunch with Edwin Gil at Luna Living Kitchen

I had been following my friend Edwin Gil during his 365 days of yoga challenge. Witnessing his amazing body transformation I couldn’t help but think I should take action on my doctor’s (and my shrink’s, and my chiropractor’s, and my massage therapist’s, and my late mother’s) advice on start practicing yoga to slow down my racing thoughts since to be able to relax at night and stay asleep was becoming a tall order without some pharmaceutical help. My doctor also recommended it to manage my weight  (because of my family’s medical history it would be better for me to lose a few pounds to be on the safe side about diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.) I asked my friend about his yoga challenge  and he kindly invited me to a “not so hard” yoga class called Hot Vinyasa. I explained that I hadn’t practiced yoga in more than a decade, but he was confident I could handle this class. So I went. Kyle Conti, the instructor, smiled as he introduced himself and advised me to follow the woman in front of me if I missed his cues. I started sweating almost from the moment I stepped in. It was basically a sauna but you are on a mat and with your clothes on! Oh no!! I forgot to bring a bottle of water! 😦

Class started with planks, Downward Facing Dogs, Downward Dogs on one leg, Warrior 1, Warior 2, Peaceful Warrior, Half Moon. In the meantime Kyle was asking us to breath deeply and slowly. Ouch! I couldn’t stop shaking! “Inhale, downward facing dog, exhale lift up right leg…” Ouch! I couldn’t think I could make it to the end, specially when he indicated to rest in a half split. How can all these people “rest” in such uncomfortable position? Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! I must confess I was about to exit almost every time Kyle spoke. I was feeling like one of those big turtles from my childhood in Buenaventura, Colombia. Grandma Nina used to catch them and after killing them, she would hang them for days for them to drip most of their fat. I was dripping sweat, fat, maybe blood, and I was feeling slippery all over. Kyle’s voice pulled me out of my little puddle of embarrassment. “You are the boss of your mat. You control whatever happens on your mat.” Yeah! I’m the boss! I’m here for a reason, and I’m going to make it! I took a towel, wiped off the sweat from my body and the mat and went back in the saddle, plus, Kyle’s playlist was pretty cool. I went into a trance with Purity Rain, Jessy Lanza, Kyle’s directions somewhere in my yellow submarine (you’d get this if you’re from my generation or the previous one ☺), and if I felt tired I just went to a child pose for half a minute.

Time ceased to exist. Suddenly Kyle was giving us cold towels to put on our faces and as I was lying on my back, refreshed by this cold item and its lavender fragrance I gave thanks to God for carrying me through to the end. Everything was sore that night and even worsened in the morning; however the pain made me realize that despite of all the exercise I do, there are muscles I am not working hard enough, or not at all; so I went back the next day. This time I met with Rowena. Her playlist was pretty cool, too! Beck, Matisyahu, Shanghai Restoration Project. Even though I was very sore from the previous Hot Vinyasa session, I was able to go through the asanas in a smoother way. Warrior 1, Warrior 2, Warrior Me! ☺ Still sore I dared to go to my Zumba class that evening and I realized how energized my morning class had left me. Irina, our Zumba instructor makes us (the front row) to do push ups if we forget the steps because the rest of the class is following us. I think I messed up about 5 times, but my arms were already feeling so strong I actually enjoyed the experience.

Dancer

The dancer asana with instructor Jaimis.

My third day of  yoga was another Hot Vinyasa hour for which I came 100% prepared. Cold water, big towel for my mat, and small towel for my face. This time I could even made an inverse plank! I was ecstatic at how the body works. Three days only. Three days and my legs flex farther, my arms elongate higher, my wrists held me on planks and downward dogs lengthier.

I wonder what else I will be able to do and in how long. One more time I confirm that you only have to change your state of mind and your body will follow. I’ll keep you posted!

Namaste XOXO ♥