When I started yoga, I got over excited and did waaaay too much, waaaay too soon. It happens. My instructor at the time kept telling me that I was pushing it a bit too hard, but in the midst of a new love affair with the craft I simply wasn’t going to be told what to do. I was overly ambitious, perhaps even competitive with the other people in the class. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before I developed a shoulder injury. Swallowing my pride, I approached her at the start of the first class after some recovery and asked her if there is something I can do during poses that might be detrimental to my shoulder. Now with many years of yoga teaching under my belt, I try to take the same approach in case one of my students experiences something similar.
Show Up for Yourself, Not the Class
Being ambitious about your yoga goals, especially when you’re a first-timer, requires showing up for yourself, instead of showing up for the class. Anybody can do the latter. The former requires you to be attuned to how you are feeling, contains an element of mindfulness, and will help to signal to you when you’re pushing yourself beyond your limits. We’re all wired differently, so skip the comparisons to others. The person next to you might even have been doing yoga for decades anyway. Follow and learn, get time on the mat, and build up your confidence to truly get into the flow of the class. When this happens, you will have truly arrived in mind, body and spirit.
The 60% Concept
In my experience, I have found that listening blindly to a yoga teacher can be an easy way to injure yourself or to become disheartened about your potential to succeed on the mat. You should always be letting the instructor guide you of course, but not without considering where your “60%” is. This might seem contrary to popular sports brand ad campaigns that promote pushing things to 200%, but the idea is to build consistency in your practice, while also leaving room to get to know your body better, and becoming more mindful of how you feel so you can take it easier on harder days, and push a little more on energised ones. When it comes to making progress in yoga, you’re not running any kind of race.
Listen to Your Body, Honour Your Limits
I’ve been teaching more BARRE yoga classes recently, which takes traditional yoga and combines it with strength training. These classes are more intense than usual, and it took my own body a few weeks to adapt to the rigorous nature of this type of yoga. If you’re trying new yoga styles, or even have BARRE on the horizon, remember to listen to your body at all times. You should empower yourself during the class, rather than holding the instructor accountable for doing that. Keep in mind that most yoga instructors aren’t doctor’s or physios after all. They are there to create the structure and space for the session, and you are expected to fill in the gaps.
Enjoying the Yoga Experience
If you’re hoping to develop a sustainable yoga routine as part of your wellness practice, it’s important to do what you can to enjoy the experience. You can be ambitious about what you want to achieve - ideally with realistic goals that have been vetted by an instructor - but it’s never a good idea to compare your progress (or to physically compete with) the person on the mat next to you. You are on your own path, you have your own skills and limitations to contend with, and whether you’re a first timer or a well-seasoned yogi, it’s worth reminding yourself to be gentle with the process. Doing so is a self care practice after all.