What yoga has taught me

1. Sometimes when you try something new (or even when you think you’ve got it all sorted), you’re going to fall flat on your face – literally. When this happens, all you can do is laugh, get up and try again.

2. It can be freaking scary to open up your heart, but the physical, mental and emotional benefits are totally worth it.

3. Work with resistance. It’s there for a reason. If you can seem to get a handle on something, or it’s just not working, no matter how hard you try, maybe it’s not meant to, at least not at this time. Pushing ourselves too hard to achieve something we are not mentally or physically ready for can lead to injury and heartache. Let the wanting go. It will come when you are ready.

4. Even when you are doing nothing, you’re doing something. Savansana seems simple, but it’s the most important asana of all. It’s still working your mind and body, just in a different way. So don’t skimp and don’t feel guilty about taking time out to read/have a bubble bath/daydream. Self-care is an energy all its own.

5. Everyday is different. Some days I can weightlessly and effortlessly lift up into headstand, others i can’t even get my feet off the ground. We are constantly changing. How we respond to something today might not be how we respond tomorrow. We can only live moment by moment, so whereever you happen to be, respect that, and work with it.

6. You are stronger than you think you are. I’ll never forget the day I was able to do Bakasana with straight arms, or flow from Eka Pada Bhujasana into Astavrakasana. I’d watched other people do them, attempted them many times (usually landing flat on my face). And then one day, I did it. This strength that seemingly came from nowhere had been with me all along.

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Bend zee knees…or perhaps not…

I messed my knees up good and proper in class the other night. I haven’t done Virasana for quite awhile, and though I don’t normally have any problems with it, I usually perform it after a standing sequence (ie my muscles and joints are nicely warmed up), and not for a particularly long hold, either.

Last night we started the class by sitting in Virasana, and stayed there for approximately 10 minutes, working through a series of seated warm up exercises. All was well until I attempted to stand up, and was faced with aching, stiffer-than-stiff knees. It was quite a while before I could straighten my legs properly, without all the aching and twinging in my knee caps.

Normally, the issues with my knees are in the opposite direction. I have a tendency to push right back into my knees, forcing them into hyperextension. My left knee will often lock up if held like this for even a short time (Parsvottanasana was my nemesis for a while, for this very reason). This was only picked up on when I returned to classes earlier this year after quite a long break, and so I’ve had to relearn a lot of the basic postures, such as Adho Mukha Svanasana and Utthita Trikonasana to ensure that my leg muscles are working instead of my poor knees.

Ardha Padmasana is okay. Full Padmasana, not so much. Any of the bound, half-lotus postures are doable, but with extreme care. Again, it was only this year that a teacher explained that the external rotation needs to come from the hip and thigh, not the knees, as I had been doing.

Starting from scratch has been both frustrating and humbling. But this is what it means to be a yoga student. No matter where you are in your practice, there is always something new to learn. And if starting again from the beginning means avoiding the risk of injury further on, then so be it.

And then there was Ashtanga…

I’ve tried a few different types of yoga in my time. The ubiquitous Hatha. Alignment-focused Iyengar (an excellent match for my perfectionist tendencies). Graceful and fluid Vinyasa (just like dancing!).

But none have humbled me quite like Ashtanga.

Granted, I haven’t been practicing it all that long – I started dabbling earlier this year, incorporating the standing sequence into my home practice, following along with a dvd, and more recently going to a regular led class once a week. And sure, I knew there were some pretty tricky asanas in each of the six series, including Primary. In no way did I expect to get through it all on the first go, but I thought 10+ years of practice would prepare me – I thought I was strong and flexible enough to get through most of it and come out on the other side with a happy, sweaty, post-Ashtanga glow.

The first time I went to a led class, I got the glow alright. I also couldn’t move my arms for three days. And that was a beginner’s class. We had barely gotten halfway through Primary series.

Since then, I’ve played around with my practice of Ashtanga. Sometimes full Primary, sometimes not. Sometimes I vinyasa after every pose, sometimes I don’t, instead spending more time on the asanas I find the most difficult (Marichyasana D, anyone?).

I thought that I would get bored with Ashtanga – doing the exact same asanas, in the exact same sequence, every single time I got on my mat. Quite happily, it’s been the opposite. The practice is constantly changing. One day my headstand is solid and stable, the next my feet can’t get even get off the ground. In each pose, I find something new to focus and work on – the placement of my foot in Marichyasana, not letting my shoulders drop in Parsvottanasana. I’ve grown noticeably stronger in a relatively short amount of time, making arm balances easier (and much more fun!). And on those days when curveballs come from all directions, it’s nice to know that some things remain a constant.

Ashtanga is tough. It asks a lot of you – physically, mentally and emotionally. More than discipline, it takes guts to get back onto the mat every day, to come up against resistance, over and over again; those poses that you can’t seem to crack, no matter how much you twist your spine, or wiggle your foot a little higher on your hip. But it’s in this very act of showing up, starting again, and working through the challenges that Ashtanga throws up, that transformation starts to happen.

The teacher training journey…so far

Back in early October, I started my yoga teacher training with theAustralianYogaAcademy. With ten years of personal yoga practice under my belt, a growing restlessness gnawing at me, and a yearning to attempt to incorporate yoga into every aspect of my life, the decision to undertake teacher training was an easy one.

Two months in, I can already (at the risk of sounding hyperbolic) say that I have made one of the best decisions of my life. The discussions we’ve had around yogic philosophy and the nature of the Universe have been mind-blowing. Beginning to learn about anatomy and physiology has been invaluable for deepening my own yoga practice. But more than that, it’s the space that we’ve created for ourselves. Instead of boring my partner senseless with endless soliloquies on hyperextension, or musings on the mechanics of a jumpback, I have a space I can go to once a week, in which I am encouraged – nay, expected – to ask questions, to explore the finer details, to delve right into the beating heart of yoga.

We’re on a break at the moment until February, and I’m missing it. That said, the next two months are going to be a great time to really broaden and explore my own practice, incorporating what I’ve already learnt, as well as to seek out new learning opportunities, new teachers and classes, start getting an idea about where I want to be heading, teaching-wise, once I’m qualified.

But that’s a whole other blog post!

Something I wrote for MindBodyGreen

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-3581/Rolling-with-Resistance.html 

Let me know what you think!

Why yoga?

Why yoga? Of all the extracurricular activities I could have chosen as a teenager, why did I pick yoga? More, why have I been able to dedicate myself to the practice for over ten years, when so many other things – netball, dancing, the gym – have fallen by the wayside?

It was the late 90s, the decade in which the new age craze really picked up speed. I was 17 years old and into all things hippie and alternative – yoga seemed to fit the bill nicely. An eight week yoga course was offered at the local gym. My mum and I signed up together, and, quite simply, that was that – the beginning of a lifelong love.

Over the next couple of years, I dabbled with yoga – short home practices, trying out different classes. The more I practiced, the more I found I needed to practice. 30 minute sessions became hour long. I went from practicing every second day to daily practice. I began to notice the difference in my body, mood and stress levels if I skipped session. Yoga had become an integral part of not just my life, but my entire being and sense of self.

Since those early days, so much has changed in my life – school, university, work, finding love, heartbreak, moving house, finding new love. My yoga practice has ebbed and flowed in its intensity – sometimes life has just been simply too crazy to spare more than five minutes for some pranayama! But through it all, yoga has been there for me, a shining beacon in life’s raging storms – awakening energy when I had none; calming my mind when negative and obsessive thinking threatened to take over; teaching me that I am both mentally and physically stronger than I could have ever conceived. Yoga has been my closest friend, my mentor and my muse. Everytime I step onto my yoga mat, it feels like coming home.