There is a lot of chat, in yoga circles, about “building a daily practice”. Or people will tell you how long they’ve been doing it for – “I first started yoga in 2010…”
But this is a bit misleading. This implies that doing yoga is a smooth, linear process, where you get better in a satisfyingly regular way, unlocking cool new poses and getting clearer and clearer skin as you go.
Like much of life, it’s not usually like that. Here’s how it was for me…
I really did start doing yoga in 2010. Slowly, tentatively, shyly. I was absolutely always the biggest in the class. I’d never done anything like yoga before – no hippy type stuff, no class based exercise. And I really loved it. Over the next couple of years, I sort of blossomed. I felt my body getting stronger, and I got to know it better, and to like my body and myself a lot more. My relationship with food started improving. I lost a stone. And a few more pounds. I was getting up for 7:00am classes. It was GREAT.
And then, I just… stopped. My yoga teacher moved, and I couldn’t find a new one I liked as much as her. I broke up with my boyfriend. I stopped eating for a bit. I got a new boyfriend. I ate nothing but Dominoes and pancakes for a bit. I was back up to my heaviest weight. I was happy. I didn’t go to a yoga class for more than two years.
Eventually though, I went slinking back. There was a new Sweaty Betty on the high street and they did FREE classes. And yoga is normally so expensive!!! So I rocked up in a spirit of Northern tightness, just because I was saving like £10, and … it was great. But they changed teachers. So I stopped. And then a new studio opened near my house! But then it closed. And then I got a yogaglo subscription! But then I didn’t use it for a few months so I cancelled it. On and on, but maintaining my fitness and flexibility, after a fashion at least, but no real consistency. As soon as yoga became a habit, it would stop again.
Then, just before Christmas, I tried a new class. I was in a shit mood, I’d had a tough day at work and I just wanted to go home and eat pasta. It was a very strong hip opening class I wasn’t paying attention. And something violently pinged in my hip. Some kind of nerve damage. Nothing you can do – just take ibuprofen when it really bothers you.
So I sulked about it for a few months, of course. And obviously stopped doing yoga – that was what had hurt me! Also, I got married, and turned 30!! And put on a stone again and did barely any exercise. And my new husband and I looked at each other over a takeaway pizza one night and agreed to join a gym together, and give the whole healthy lifestyle thing a go. We found an astonishingly cheap gym. They have yoga four times a week. And even though my leg still hurts, it’s just uncomfortable really, not painful. And the exercise helps it.
So now I’m back in the land of the 6:15 yoga class. It’s a smug place. I like it here. The benefits I’ve always found in yoga are as strong as they’ve ever been – feeling comfortable in my own skin, getting stronger, a sense of peace. But this time, although I’m not the biggest in the class anymore, I am absolutely the worst. Because of my leg, I’m the least flexible and the least strong and my down dog’s all wonky, in a way it’s never been before. In forward folds I can only tip forward a few inches, not all the way over. It’s ANNOYING.
And this is a new experience for me. When I first started yoga, I was in my early 20’s, and naturally pretty flexible. I hadn’t really got to know my body before and it was constantly surprising me – every time I held a balance without toppling over, or lifted myself up into a plank, I felt like a superhero. But now, I remember what I used to be able to do, and the frustration of being “crap at yoga” is much harder to bear. I’m not a beginner anymore! I started this SIX YEARS AGO.
But here’s the thing – I’m trying, really very very hard, not to care. One of the big things about yoga is that you are meant to “let go of your ego” – translated, this means “stop being such a self-absorbed prick”. The idea is that you are not meant to do yoga in order to enjoy “being good at yoga”. You practice – not perform. So the experience of working through your dissatisfaction with not being able to do a pose properly, but forgiving yourself for that, is as “being good at yoga” as to just do the pose perfectly – maybe even more so.
We’ll see. I still want to do a sun salutation with more grace, less groaning. But for now, if I keep going to classes, that will be triumph enough.