This one thing I wish I knew as a beginner yogi…
Looking back at 2008 (or was it 2009?), to the time when I came to my first yoga class and liked it enough to continue doing it at least once a week, little did I know that this “exotic fitness class” would eventually become a major part of my life and transform me into a much healthier version of myself (giving up smoking and waking up at 6am instead of going to bed at 4am are just a couple of major shifts in my habits).
Back then I was just happy to find a class at the end of which you could daydream for good five minutes – that’s what I thought Savasana was for. The class was a mix of restorative, hatha, and some vinyasa, and felt relatively easy, except for several elements like Chaturanga Dandasana which I could not do to save my life. So, I chose to ignore these elements until many years later they came back to haunt me. I wish someone have warned me. I wish I can turn back time and start my practice over again. So, if you are new to yoga, I hope you can learn from my mistakes, especially, if you are like me – the s̶t̶r̶o̶n̶g̶ ̶s̶i̶l̶e̶n̶t̶ weak bendy type.
Our bodies are not created equal – we all have things we are naturally good at, and – sadly, things we suck at. For example, yours truly quickly realized that strength is not my strength. I could do a full wheel on day one of yoga, but it took me four years to get into a headstand.
But here is the thing: it didn’t have to be this way. I chose this path, blinded by my natural inclination towards flexibility poses, not knowing that I’m setting myself up for a failure in a long run...
When I started yoga, I was so happy with the results I got with the flexibility asanas. I loved them. I did them more frequently, never skipped them in a class, and held for a longer time. Remember what Dany told Jon Snow in their first one-on-one?
We all enjoy what we are good at. And she is completely right. It gives us pleasure, so we tend to do more of it, like me with my full wheels and splits.
However, yoga philosophy teaches that we need to let go of our attachments to pleasures and stop avoiding pain. Only by doing this you will be able to achieve Liberation. If Liberation is not something you want to pursue in this lifetime, you still need to follow the same rules of letting go attachments and not avoid things that are hard for you. Why? Because you need both strength and flexibility if you want to build a balanced and healthy yoga practice. Otherwise, you limit yourself to learning a couple of circus tricks. Pretty, meaningless, and probably, not safe, circus tricks.
In other words, if you have a naturally strong upper body, don’t rush to spend all your time practicing handstands (they do look cool, I agree), as they tighten the shoulders, which is going to affect your ability to backbend. Instead, spend 40% on strength asanas, and 60% on flexibility asanas.
The same goes the other way: if you are naturally flexible, make sure to spend some time to build strength and stability in your muscles. Not only you will need it for more advanced and even some intermediate yoga poses, but this will also protect your body from potential injuries.