I’ve just come across a blog post that left me raising my eyebrow. Just one. In a are-you-kiddin’-me kind of stare. Particularly since the author is teaching the subject matter and is an author on the topic of yoga.
The post lists 10 ways in which yoga stresses this yogini out. I am having a hard time recalling when, if ever, have I heard someone, beginner or experienced yogi, describe their yoga experience as stressful. If yoga does anything, that is to bring you to a place where you are free of tension, thoughts and judgments – free of stress. Yoga is freeing. In order to achieve that though, you’d have to live the yoga, show up for your practice with the mindset of letting go of the outer chatter and pollution, and allow the healthy yogic breath and your physical practice lead you towards a still mind.
Here are 10 ways you’re stressing yourself out, that you could erroneously blame on yoga:
1. Pedicures. A spiritual practice does not ever require you to worry about your feet looking pretty. Nor your hair. It does not ever require you to worry. I believe, and correct me if I am wrong, a spiritual practice, regardless of religious branch, but in our case yoga practice, is a haven you withdraw to for detachment from the outside world and connection to your Self (or in case of various religions, you seek a connection to a god). Your mat is the space you step into and rid yourself of petty worries such as chipped nail polish or yellowish toenails.
Personal note: I went through a whole yoga teacher training (6+ months) wearing no nail polish and showcasing terrible yellow nails from years of wearing nail polish 24/7. Quite likely those detail-oriented and keen on passing superficial judgment were wondering whether I had a bad case of toe nail fungi. Yes, there were moments when I was self-conscious for maybe a second, before realizing that I was there not for a pedicure photoshoot, but for yoga practice and training.
2. Clothes. See 1. The practice of yoga is not “outer-obsessed.” Some yoga practitioners may bring the stress caused by vanity concerns onto the mat, but that’s all on them. Why do you pack your mat and head over to the studio? Is it so you can find an hour of peace and quiet, when you can breath life energy into your body, letting go of the energies that do not serve you and replenish your Self with light and goodness, or is it so you can catwalk your kdeer and onzie attire in a yogini fashionista fashion? You can find beautiful white tees, tank tops, tunics and, I’m pretty sure, white leggings at Target, shopping trip that would not break the bank when you make the switch to Kundalini.
Personal note: While I do own quite a few fashionable items, because I do like pretty clothes, too, I am seldom stressed out about what to wear when headed to a yoga class. Most of the times I wear my Target or Whole Foods tights (which are 95% cotton which I prefer to spandex, but rank real low on the fashion scale), and random non-yoga-brand tank tops. If I am to choose, I prefer to be comfortable rather than fashionable during my yoga practice.
3. Weight. Uhm. Yeah. So… Again, think of yoga as the space that allows you to stop the mind chatter, the practice that offers you the tools to put a halt onto any judgment and other negative emotions like fear or fury. Particularly this self-conscious, beating-yourself-up for being heavier, or skinnier, or bonier, or uglier than the beach-bod yogini on the lululemon mat next to yours. You are stressing yourself out over nothing; surrender to your yoga practice and you will eventually come to see that.
Personal note: I have always been self-conscious about my belly. While always athletic and toned-muscled, I have never had a six-pack. I proudly own a “yoga belly” as my husband lovingly calls it. For months and months after I had my son, I had quite the flab hanging over the elastic band of my pants. That didn’t stop me from practicing in a sports bra when the room was too hot, with excess “meat” hanging around. And it shouldn’t stop you either. Your yoga practice is between you and… you. Keep your gaze soft, eyes on the horizon-line or a foot in front of you, depending on the pose. You shouldn’t be thinking about the other students, but if you do, think that their gaze is also where it should be.
4. Pure terror. Whaaat? If your practice is scary, what you are practicing is not yoga. If you are taking a class with a new teacher let them know about your practice level and any limitations you may have. If you do that and the teacher still fails to keep you comfortable and safe during the class, you should respectfully let them know. Yoga is the powerful union of breath and body movement. When you are physically uncomfortable or scared, your breath will tell you. Listen to your breath, and listen to your body, and back off when needed. You are giving yourself that one hour to practice for the benefit of your body and mind, and not to impress the teacher or your fellow yogis.
Personal note: I used to be this yogini before my yoga teacher training. The one keeping up with the class and jumping into poses when my body was asking for Child’s Pose. For the longest time I had low-back problems which I have too late realized were because of an incorrect alignment and over-arching in Cobra. I now am confident (and wise, ahem!) enough to know my limits and go for Supported Bridge when the class is synchronized in Wheel.
5. Cliques. As in “established groups of yogi friends.” Why would anyone be threatened or intimidated by groups of friends? Or is it envy, or jealousy? Again, this is WHY you practice yoga. This is not something yoga subjects you to, rather it will help you, if given the chance (surrender to your practice, focus on breath and movement and see what emotions surface), to understand what the underlying issue is.
Personal note: I can’t say I have any experience with this. I do notice groups of friends, some close friends who come together to class, other “classmates” who have practiced in the same space for a long time. I have never felt intimidated or anything for that matter while observing friendship.
6. Teacher’s pets. Teacher’s pets are defined (here) as those who are repeatedly asked to demo poses for the class, meet socially with the teacher, or are listened to by the teacher. One thing which is valid across all these 10 points is that yoga is a self-centered, individual experience during the practice, and as a yogi(ni) you’re working towards living less in your head, and free of judgmental and negative thoughts. What is it deep down inside that would make one pay attention to the teacher’s habits, and label a fellow yogi a “teacher’s pet”?
Personal note: It is advisable that a teacher do not try to demonstrate an advanced pose without proper warm-up; that’s when using a student to demo is useful. As a yoga teacher, I will choose someone whose practice is more advanced, who I am confident will be safe while demoing, who I know will be comfortable having all eyes on them. If that means I offer the opportunity to the same student over and over, so be it. I went for drinks with teachers as their student (heck! one of my yoga teachers was my wedding officiator), and I went for drinks with students as a teacher. I really do not see how or why someone would be annoyed by the socializing between a yoga teacher and a fellow student.
7. Money. Oh, yes, money. The root of all stress. That’s what’s causing the stress – money, not yoga. If you cannot afford a studio yoga practice, you can have one at home (preferably, beginners should take a few classes with a teacher to learn the basics of alignment and other fundamentals of yoga). Or, donation-based and free classes are everywhere nowadays; you may have to travel out of your neighborhood, but you’re saving $$. I would say, especially if you have money-related (or any other kind of) stress, find a way to practice yoga. Even if it’s a few breathing exercises or online guided meditation.
Personal note: My yoga journey started many moons ago, at home, in front of the TV. I was a student in Amsterdam with little money to spend on extracurricular activities like yoga. As a teacher, I offer donation-based classes and once I am comfortable in terms of class sizes and income, I am planning to offer at least one weekly free class. Yoga should be accessible to all, and while it is online, it is certainly nice to have access to a real class even when money is tight.
8. Travel. Yoga does not make you jealous of those who can afford to go on international retreats or pursue workshops and trainings on tropical islands. You are jealous to begin with; you’re probably jealous of your friend who’s planning her honeymoon in Maldives, and your co-worker who is thrilled about his trip to New Zealand for which he’s saved money and PTO days for a couple of years. Be happy for the happiness of others. Learn from others’ experiences. If you know a fellow yogini went on a fun retreat to Costa Rica, ask about her stay there. Let the good happening around you lift you up. Pick up on the good vibes. That’s what yoga is all about.
Personal note: The only retreat I have been on was far from a yoga retreat (although it was labeled as such) and it was 1.5 hours away from home. I wish I could go to India with my Iyengar teacher’s group, I dreamed about going for a couple of weeks to an ashram in Bali, I hope one day I will be able to go on a retreat with the beautiful yoginis who have taught and mentored me into the yoga teacher that I am today. Someday. Until then, I will soak up all the beautiful stories I hear from fellow yogi(ni)s who have the chance to travel before I do.
9. Teaching. Personal note: I am no experienced yoga teacher. I’ve been teaching for about six months, out of which two I was on a break busy baking a bun in the oven. Teaching can be stressful, yes, BUT that’s why I practice yoga: to bring myself back into the now, to ground myself, and to find the confidence to step in front of my students. Once I remember to breathe, once I realize that the knowledge I have is well stored and ready to be shared, the “stage fright” dissipates. I may make mistakes, I may very well scramble the whole sequence, I may need to be reminded about the left side – I am learning to accept that I am human and I will make mistakes. I’ll breathe through it and will not allow stress to accumulate.
10. Mean yogis. We are all human. Yogis are human, too, far from gods and goddesses or enlightened spirits, and sometimes yogis are hurting, too, and in turn they will unintentionally hurt others. That being said, we should try to remind ourselves about the fundamentals of yoga, particularly the yamas and niyamas. The first of the yamas is ahimsa, which in yoga refers to non-judgment and thoughtfulness towards other beings. Let us be kind and non-judgmental while on the mat and off the mat.
If you are a beginner yogi, know that your yoga practice can be your time and your place to connect to that which matters – your Self. There are so many things, people and situations in life that deplete us of energy, and yoga is the space in which you can recharge. You are in control of designing your yoga practice, growing, at your own pace, from one session to the next, freeing yourself of all that you carry, through pranayama (breath) and asana (movement). The outer world is just noise, so crank up the volume on the ujayi breath, and enjoy the journey to that harmonious place that is waiting and within you.