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If you want to create and build a sustainable yoga practice that will last you for the rest of your life there are some things you're going to need to keep in mind in order for that to happen…in order for your yoga practice to really stick.
If you're new to yoga, or maybe you've stepped away from yoga for a while and you're just now finding your way back onto the mat, here are 4 things you’ll want to remember.
I'm always keenly aware that whatever happens for me on the yoga mat is probably a pretty good indication of what happens for me off of the mat, too.
If I get into my yoga practice or into an asana and I'm impatient or frustrated, or if my self-talk is not good, not loving, not kind and compassionate…
Chances are that's the exact same way that I'm treating myself elsewhere in life.
So, what you're cultivating when you're on the mat serves you both in your yoga practice and elsewhere, starting with the first concept that I want to explore with you, which is embrace the awkwardness.
EMBRACE THE AWKWARDNESS
Any time I talk to somebody who says they've never done yoga before, or that they've only practiced it once or twice and they’re not sure if it’s for them, my advice is always the same. Embrace the awkwardness.
Anytime we're stepping out of our comfort zone and trying something new, there's an awkward phase. No matter what it is—whether it's learning yoga, or learning to cook, or play an instrument, or learn a new language—there’s always that period of awkwardness. When we're stepping out of our comfort zone, if we want to stick with anything, we have to get comfortable with and be willing to embrace the awkwardness.
The same thing is true on the yoga mat.
If you're getting onto the mat for the first time, or you're relatively new to yoga, you're asking your body to do things it hasn't done before or is not quite familiar with. And so, of course, there will be some awkwardness. There will be muscles that don't quite understand what you want them to do. There are going to be areas that are tight… that are not yet open in the way that you want them to be in order to really get the most out of a particular asana.
Embrace the awkwardness, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly it starts to dissipate.
YOGA IS FOR EVERYBODY, AND EVERY BODY
A lot of people think that they can't do yoga because they're not flexible. I hear that one a lot— “I can't practice yoga, I'm not flexible.” To which I always respond, "that’s why you do yoga.” Yoga helps us become more flexible.
I also hear people say, “I need to lose weight, first before I can practice yoga”, or whatever that reason might be that's keeping somebody from getting onto the mat and really giving yoga a true go…a true try…
I think a lot of people are getting confused and intimidated because we see a lot of images on social media and in yoga magazines of really young, skinny, flexible people that are able to contort their bodies in ways that seem completely foreign to us, and completely impossible.
But that's not what yoga is really about.
You don't have to ever get yourself into one of those pretzel-like, contortionist yoga poses to be practicing yoga.
Yoga is for everybody and every body type. It's about finding a way to make the practice work for you.
There are always modifications that can be made. You can work with yoga props.
I have worked with people that have had weight issues. I have worked with people that have joint issues. I have worked with people that had prosthetic limbs. It really doesn't matter what's going on for somebody, everybody can find something that they can do or some way that they can make a practice work for them…even if it's practicing yoga in a chair. There are always ways to make it work for you.
I once wrote an article about a yoga teacher who, decades earlier, had been in a terrible accident. She had broken nearly every bone in her body and was told that she would never walk again. She hadn't even heard of yoga when somebody gave her a book about it while she was still stuck in her hospital bed. At the time, the only thing she could do was start with yogic breathing.
So even if you start with the breath, you're going to get incredible, profound benefits. Then you move on from there and make the practice work for you…you find a way to make yoga work for you.
DO YOUR BEST AND LET THAT BE ENOUGH
The next thing to think about when embarking on a yoga practice is to do your best and let that be enough.
Don't let your yoga practice be another opportunity to beat yourself up. We do enough of that in our culture. Don't let yoga be another opportunity for that.
And again what happens on the map is often a reflection of what happens in life. If you can learn to do your best and let that be enough on your mat, you can probably apply that same principle elsewhere in your life.
EXPLORE, AND HONOR, YOUR EDGE
When you're getting into a yoga practice and you're learning a new asana, learn to explore and find your edge within the pose, and then honor it.
I like to call it "the sweet spot”, that place where you find the perfect balance between effort and surrender, where you can relax into what you’re doing and breathe.
If you can’t relax into it and breathe you're probably trying too hard. Back off a bit.
Find your edge in whatever it is you're doing, then honor that edge. Don't be so impatient to move on to the next stage of your practice and development that you don't respect your body. That's when people tend to get hurt.
Again, the same thing applies in life. If it's true on the mat, it's true in life.
If you do these things you’ll enjoy a yoga practice and a yoga lifestyle that will last for the rest of your life.
Be kind to yourself with your yoga practice. Remember, embrace the awkwardness. Remember, yoga is for everybody and everybody. There is always a way to make it work for you. Modify as needed. Do your best and let that be enough. And explore and I honor your edge.
If you do these four things, you will enjoy a yoga practice, and a yoga lifestyle, that will serve you for the rest of your life.