When I started practicing yoga, I definitely thought I knew what I was getting into. I had two pairs of lovely yoga pants, a brand new yoga mat, and was ready to sun salute my way to flexibility and peace! Little did I know that yoga had a few surprises in store for me, both mundane and more profound. Looking back, there are a few things I wish I had known, which would have made my yoga journey a little easier.
Clothing matters. You always hear people say that the proper dress code for yoga involves clothing that doesn’t restrict movement, or something you’re comfortable moving in. Kundalini yoga will add that white clothing is best. But these guidelines leave a lot of room for interpretation, and a lot of room for error. I don’t think everyone needs to run out to Lululemon or special order expensive yoga garb made from magical, organic, free-range fibers. But I have learned that wearing looser fitting shirts while doing hand- and headstands can be cause for embarrassment. Pants that are too tight can show off more than intended for ladies and gentlemen. Think about the style of yoga you are doing, the kinds of postures or movements that are likely to come up, and dress accordingly!
Flexibility isn’t everything. If I had known when I started taking classes that a few years later my heels still wouldn’t touch the floor in downdog, I don’t know if I would have ever bothered. Whether I practice once a week or every day, nothing seems to bring me closer to my goal, and it’s always been a big source of frustration. In spite of my lack of progress in that one area, I have seen great improvements in my strength, endurance, and breath capacity. Without yoga, I wouldn’t know that my hands and wrists are strong enough to hold me up in crow pose, or my legs strong enough to kick up into a handstand. Whatever physical goals you set for yourself in your yoga practice, remember that there are lots of ways that yoga improves our physical health. Celebrate your accomplishments wherever they come.
It does so much more than change your body. Yoga changes the way you see the world. Not quickly, not all of a sudden. But looking back at the soda drinking, junk food snacking gal I used to be, it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come. And that’s just diet. Yoga can change the way you relate to other people, to the planet, to your job…the list goes on and on. Of course we all grow and change in our lives, with or without a yoga practice. But sometimes it feels like adopting a regular yoga practice is taking the fast lane to personal growth. At times it can feel a little strange or confusing, especially when you’re not sure where the urge to eat so many vegetables came from, but it can also be incredibly exciting.
Doing yoga doesn’t turn you into a saint. Don’t we all know yogi teachers or friends who seem like the most peaceful people in the world? Part of why I started taking yoga classes was because I wanted a piece of what my friends had. Well, yoga definitely changes things, but that doesn’t mean that we suddenly become 100% loving and peaceful all of the time. Try as we might to remember to breathe and send out positive energy, sometimes you’re still going to get mad at the person who cuts you off in traffic. Your relationship with that difficult relative or co-worker will still have bumps, and there will be plenty of days where you skip practice to go shopping or just veg on the couch. Yoga is not a series of magic postures that turns everyone into Mother Teresa, and that’s ok. It can definitely help us remember to be kind, but it also helps us remember to love ourselves as we are.