As a D.C.-based yoga teacher, I’m surrounded by some of the most driven and competitive people in the world. Many of these D.C. residents turn to yoga to find more balance in their lives (good idea, people). Used to being the best at everything, some tend to become discouraged and dismiss the practice even before their first yoga class. I have heard “Yoga is not for me” from beginning yogis too many times to count.
I get it. Nobody likes feeling uncomfortable, and it is in our nature to seek praise and recognition for the things we put our valuable time into. But yoga doesn’t work like most things. Let me set the record straight for yoga newbies out there who may be having doubts: Yoga IS for you.
1. Anyone can be a yogi.
You don’t need to move to India or ever join a yoga studio to practice yoga. You don’t need to chant in an ashram or buy a fancy yoga mat (though I do love my Manduka ProLite). Nor do you need to be remotely flexible or able to stand on your head.
Moments after I stuck my first handstand, my teacher said, “Remember, if you aren’t connecting to your breath and practicing mindfulness, you are just doing really bad gymnastics.”
Ouch—but true! According to the Yoga Sutras, the foundational text of yoga, the only criteria for being a yogi is the ability to “direct and focus mental activity.” Quiet your mind and be present in what you are doing. Ta-dah! You are a yogi.
2. You can’t suck at yoga.
Actually, NOBODY sucks at yoga. Yoga doesn’t judge.
I didn’t realize that my brother was a yogi until I heard this lyric from a song that he wrote: “Life’s just a journey, not lost or won.” Well, yoga is just a journey too. You don’t win a prize for being the most flexible or for having the lung capacity to chant “aaauummmmm” longer than the rest of the class.
Yoga is about practicing non-attachment. Notice if you find yourself comparing your practice to others, or even comparing yourself to yourself. Rest assured, like everyone else who practices yoga, you too are a yoga rock star.
3. You must be patient, young grasshopper.
Yoga is the longest rehearsal of your life—scratch that—it is rehearsal FOR your life. Continue to practice, especially on days when your legs feel like bricks or something downright crappy happened. The more you practice listening to your body and being patient and compassionate with yourself, the more you will start to notice the many benefits of yoga off your mat. Practice makes possible.
4. There is not a one-size-fits-all yoga practice.
There are so many styles of yoga out there these days that it can be tempting to get caught up in drama about whose guru is best. Honestly, what yoga practice works for you simply depends on who you are and where you are at certain points in your life. If you haven’t found a style that resonates with you, keep looking. Keep an open mind. Explore different styles and continually challenge your idea of what is yoga. Eventually you will find your guru, or maybe even multiple gurus.
5. Always look at your practice with a beginner’s mind.
Months from now, if you start to anticipate the posture your teacher is going to teach next, before she even knows it, remember that you are a beginner. Years from now, if you can recite the Yoga Sutras and transition from a one-handed handstand to some crazy arm balance, continue to remember: You are a beginner. Just finished leading an advanced 500-hour yoga teacher training? You guessed it—still a beginner.
There is always something to learn from the practice of yoga.
Lauren Jacobs is a teacher for experienced yogis and yoga skeptics alike. She is a D.C.-based yoga, fitness, and wellness coach (moonlighting as a government ethics attorney) who aims to help people identify fun, realistic ways to integrate healthy practices into their hectic, everyday lives. Find out more about Lauren, including her favorite gluten-free recipes and other offerings, on her website, mbodhi.com, or on Instagram. Or, get some inspiration to move your body from one of her countless Spotify playlists.