10 things I wish I’d known when I started practising yoga

10 things1. the journey lasts a lifetime, so what’s the rush?

When I started practising yoga when I was 20 (in 1997), I worked my way through some of the course at the back of Light on Yoga by BKS Iyenger. I had grand aspirations to finish the 300+ week course, although of course I never did. At the outset, I became a little fixated on the end destination, rather than the journey.

2. asana is just one of the eight limbs of yoga 

As with most people when they first come to yoga, it is the physical postures that drew me in. It wasn’t until a good few years into my practice, that I discovered the rest of the yogic path. Meditation for one has been a definite life-saver…I only wished I had discovered it sooner!

3. savasana is the most important pose

Yep, you read it right! Savasana, or corpse pose, is where the magic happens. In the yoga philosophy, it’s said that we open the energy channels in the body (the nadis) through the physical postures, the bandhas (locks) and the breath. Lying in savasana for an extended time allows the kundalini shakti (the coiled primal energy) to rise up the channels and leading to awakening. If you run out of class before savasana, you can feel a little out of sorts. Savasana can be the hardest pose in yoga – you try lying still for 10-15 minutes without getting distracted by thoughts about what to have for lunch!

4. chakras are the bomb

Being a sciencey kind of girl, I was very skeptical of the whole notion of chakras in the beginning. Chakras are the wheels of energy ‘located’ at various spaces in the body. Since developing a more chakra-aware practice, and by tuning in to what my body and mind need right now, I can help myself feel more grounded, confident to speak out, energised, etc, just through the practice of yoga.

5. the poses that scare you the most are where the inner work needs to be done

I’m not saying here that you need to throw yourself dangerously into advanced yoga postures. What I am saying is that if it feels scary to open the heart centre in that backbend, perhaps there is work to be done not only on your physical spine, but also in the areas of loving kindness (the heart centre) and speaking your truth (the throat centre). If you are having trouble in those balancing poses, perhaps you need to find ways of bringing more balance into your life. Of course, the yoga itself will help, but one feeds the other.

6. yoga teachers are not to be taken literally

That teacher who told you to breathe into your hip joints wasn’t off their rocker. You really can move prana (vital life-force) around the body through the power of visualisations like this. Plus it also helps you to focus on the physical sensations, which is itself a form of concentration.

7. the folks doing the most advanced postures aren’t the most advanced yogis

If I discovered yoga today, as opposed to the less glamorous late-’90s, it would be hard to avoid the Instagram generation of yoga-pants and inversion-crazy photos that have swamped the internet. But there is a difference between mere gymnastics (which is, in itself, physically impressive, I won’t deny) and YOGA [see no.2 above!].

8. a home practice is great, but you can’t beat the energy and motivation of a good yoga class

Unusually, perhaps, I started my yoga journey with home practice. I was recovering from an eating disorder, and wanted to do everything in my power to avoid parading around in public in lycra. I did attend classes eventually, of course, and then realised the collective consciousness and energy of a great class, and a great teacher.

9. eventually, yoga seeps off your mat and into your life, whether you like it or not

I genuinely believe that even the most hardened of gym bunnies, if they are open to it and maintain the practice, will eventually begin to question their habits of eating meat, how they live their lives, at whatever level is appropriate to them. I’m not saying that everyone who does a yoga class is going to end up giving up their job in the city to live in an ashram. However, that yoga magic does start to pervade other areas of your life and transform them. All you need to do is be a little bit open to that.

10. there is a style of yoga to suit different energy levels, personality types, times in your menstrual cycle

After a few years in the Iyengar tradition, I switched to Ashtanga. Both styles can be dogmatic at times (although I love them both!). It was only when I discovered yin yoga and yoga nidra that I realised that ‘yoga’ didn’t have to mean throwing yourself through the primary series for a sweaty hour and a half six days a week. It was ok (and more sustainable!) to balance a more dynamic practice with a softer practice. And sometimes when you are full of energy, a strong practice is what’s needed. But not always – sometimes the challenge is to balance out what we find in the body and mind through the practice.

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