Perpetual Beginner

I don’t feel the need to be anything more than that – a beginner. Having said that, my practice is an amazing gift that I nurture with even more practice. It’s a gift from the universe that I do not take for granted. The whole experience is a plethora of emotions just waiting to be unleashed – delight, wonder, indifference, struggle, obsession, disappointment, breakdown, breakthrough, wonder, delight. I welcome each new emotion with an open heart, whether it appeals to my senses or not. I have learned not to dismiss any experience. Any aversion to unpleasant sensations only causes more misery than fully accepting the source of unpleasantness.

Nearly four years ago, I started my journey home to myself. Of course, back then, I didn’t really look at it that way. Back then, I lived a pretty sedentary lifestyle. I was overweight and borderline diabetic. I needed an activity – any activity at that – that allows more movement than my current lifestyle afforded me. I found a yoga studio around the corner from my house, and the rest was history. Each time I am one with my mat, I discover something new about my practice. I find something new about myself. Each time, with no fail, I am reminded that I am perpetually a learner – a beginner.

Fast forward four years…I still come back to practice. Mind you, my yoga has evolved in more ways than one. I’ve had to overcome my incessant ego several times. And I suspect I will still need to overcome its limitless attempts to undermine my journey. You see, ego is a funny little thing. It pushes you in multiple directions, but none of them ever really lead to liberation. It engages your self-destruct button and you have to succumb before you realize that you don’t have to. Ego will create and destroy relationships for you, so you will realize that all you ever really need is already within you.

I have come to terms with the fact that as far as yoga is concerned, as a practitioner and a teacher, I am a child. A stubborn child who has a lot to learn. But unlike a child, I realize now that I am not in a hurry to grow up. I enjoy being a beginner. I don’t really need to go far, I just need to keep going. Continue reading

Advertisements

Dear Yoga Virgin: An open letter to anyone who’s about to join a yoga class for the first time

Dear Yoga Virgin,

Namaste! First of all, let me congratulate you for finally coming inside the confines of a yoga studio for the first time. You may not realize this today, or not even in your next few days of yoga practice, but you are doing yourself a favor. You see, yoga has long been practiced in Ancient India as a means to reach one’s enlightenment. Sure, that image of yoga has been overshadowed by Western ads featuring bikini yoginis in wildly impossible contortions, but I hope that as you step onto the yoga mat, you keep an open mind and an open heart about the experience that is about to unfold.

Before we continue, please switch your phone to Silent Mode and keep it inside your bag. Most likely, you won’t need it during class. You won’t even get time to check it.

Since this is your first time (and you’re probably in the gym about to take a Flow class, or in a studio waiting for your Ashtanga teacher), let me tell you in a very calm, yoga teacher voice, it will be the worst 60 (or 90) minutes of your life as you know it. Or at least that’s how I felt during my first time (because really, this is just me sharing what it was like for me and I assume it’s going to be the same for everyone). Again I ask you to keep an open mind and an open heart, and if possible, a straight spine during meditation (unless you have kyphosis or some other spinal condition). Exaggeration aside, yoga is probably harder than you initially imagined. It’s not just stretching limbs, you know. In a full yoga asana class, we stretch, we bend, we lift, we balance, we do push-ups and one-handed planks, we stand on our heads, and sometimes we take a fun ride using our arms. It’s a full body workout and you will use muscles you’ve been neglecting for years. You will have to execute some of the most awkward postures you’ve ever done, and there will be strange sensations you’ve never felt before. Suffice it to say that you will feel really sore the next day. Honor your body at all times. If your body is telling you to rest, please do so. If your body is telling you that it has reached a certain limit (of flexibility or stamina perhaps), listen to your body and don’t push beyond that.

image

Credits to the owner of this image

Which brings me to my next point: Whatever happens in class (unless it’s an emergency), please, please, please (and I say this as a teacher), stay on the mat until the final Savasana (that little nap time at the end of class). If you have already endured the rigorous Sun Salutations, odds are you’ve endured the hardest, most tiring part of class, and you are well on your way to making peace with the asanas. And if you’re feeling really uneasy, you can always rest on your mat in a seated or lying down position. Don’t get me wrong, if you step out of the class, no one is going to judge you. But it’s distracting for other practitioners to see someone walk out pre-Savasana. It makes your teacher wonder if he/she did something wrong to be walked out on. Don’t worry though. He/she will move on the second you close the door and forget it ever happened. No judging, no explanations required. If you absolutely must leave before class ends, please lie down in Savasana for a minute or two before heading out. I promise you, that exact moment when you open your eyes after Savasana is probably one of the best feelings in the world that it actually offsets any of the initial physical awkwardness that you felt during the class. Of course, the reason why you feel such peace after Savasana was those tiny awkward moments you had to endure, and the relief knowing that you’ve already survived that.

image

Credits to the owner of this image

I’m not aware of your intentions in coming to this particular yoga class. If you’re like me, you’re probably here just to try it out, not knowing what to expect, and completely devoid of any intention. You may or may not like your first experience. If you don’t enjoy the first time, I urge you to try at least two more times before you decide whether or not yoga is for you (I’m sure it is).

The yogic journey usually starts with working on the asanas (or postures). But in time, if you give yourself the chance, you will find out that yoga has a deeper purpose than that, and physical fitness is only one of the innumerable benefits of yoga. I’m not gonna dwell on that for now because your class is about to start and I don’t want to overwhelm you.

So just try to have fun and try to see past the perfection of your alignment. You are already beautiful as you are. Embrace yourself fully, for all your strengths and all your weaknesses, and you will breeze through this practice. Don’t pressure yourself if an asana seems too difficult. Just laugh at it and do what your body can handle. 🙂

Until here. Have a safe and meaningful practice.

Hari om,
Leona

The Paradox of the Practice

Only in yoga can you feel that you’ve really come a long way since you first started and yet feel that you still have so much more to accomplish. You get this feeling of fulfillment because you have conquered your fears and weaknesses, yet you humble yourself because you know there is always room for improvement. That is the beautiful paradox of the practice.

20130810-071601.jpg

SHIRSHASANA or HEADSTAND
Taken on my third month of practice
What needs adjustment: The spine should be long and straight. As seen on the leftmost shot, my back is curved and my tailbone is popping out. The rightmost shot shows the proper alignment of the back but my legs should be straight with my toes pointing up or my soles facing the ceiling.