A Note from Natalie: yoga-novice
Photo by Dimitry Kotov
As mentioned in our first yoga post, I have been re-starting my yoga journey, and I’d like to share 2 milestones I’ve made note of, because I think I might have found them personally useful in the many times in the past I struggled to establish a practice – or put off getting started with it at all.
1. The irresistible urge to compare yourself to others in class.
We’ve all been there. Glancing left and right of you, noticing someone twice your age performing poses that make your eyes water with alarming fluidity and ease. The twist in the stomach that alerts you to the fact that you might actually be the worst person in the class and maybe you’re not cut out for yoga…
It’s no exaggeration to say that everywhere I looked, someone was doing better than me.
Y’know what I thought to myself? Sweating away in a downward dog where my heels were nowhere near the ground and a lady next to me, roughly my mother’s age, sighed blissfully into an obscenely elegant triangle… I thought, ‘when was the last time you saw cats watching each other stretch?’
They don’t. You know why? Because stretching is not a competition sport, it’s just what you do when you want to feel good and ready to move about.
Reminding myself of the point of my practice helped me to keep going, and actually opened up an entirely new level of pleasure and enjoyment, because I started paying attention to my experience rather than everyone else in the room.
When I’m lead into a pose like Pidgeon, and the person next to me flattens themselves completely to the ground, I remember what the purpose of the pose is – I’m not going for gold here, the point is to open up my hips. That is, open up MY hips. If I’m feeling the stretch, if I’m feeling a pleasurable elongating of my muscles, in ways they don’t usually feel, I’m actually succeeding in the purpose of it.
Like everything else in life, when you first start, the limit you’re able to stretch to might not be that far, but each time you do it, the pleasurable stretch gets just a little deeper and a little closer to being fully opened up – and the point in coming back to the mat every day is just to get the kinks out and maintain the body’s best levels (or in my case, discover them for the first time!).
There’s no competition involved in yoga. It’s a personal practice, connecting mind and body, and it’s deeply individual.
I think this comes with experience, but when you’re focused on what your body can do, how you feel as you move in and out of poses, how natural the rhythm and flow of it is after a while, then the urge to compare, the habit of worrying about how you look or how you’re performing dissolves.
And if it doesn’t? Take your mat out at home, and practice in an empty room. Find out that it feels really, really good, even when there’s no-one around to congratulate you and especially when there’s no-one there for you to imagine judging you.
(And by the way, I’m still the least flexible person in the room. But now I’m enjoying myself as much as anyone – I’m the one sighing blissfully into downward dog… and my heels are still a bit off the ground, but it feels great).
Photo from Recoil Mag.com
2. Discovering your favourite pose.
I’ve mentioned my favourite pose casually in other blog posts and it’s not the most inspiring to witness, but for me, it has been the most illuminating. It has provided me with exactly what I didn’t know I needed – and this is another great revelation about starting a yoga journey: the discoveries you make along the way, which you cannot predict, and you cannot plan for.
Of course I love the challenge of difficult poses, I love to feel stretched and pushing myself, but my favourite pose is not one of those. It’s the Corpse Pose.
Now before you Google it and think ill of me for selecting what is basically just lying down – I have to defend myself that a) it’s a great pose to start with to prove to yourself that great yoga is not about competition, and b) the complexity involved in getting the best out of this pose. It’s not just lying down, it’s complete, and utter…surrender.
Have you ever tried that? Completely letting go? Giving in? Allowing yourself to be entirely held by the ground? The difficulty of it isn’t necessarily in the body, but in the mind, and in that, I find this pose one of the more challenging ones. Because when I’m pushing myself through something difficult, it’s pushing all my buttons: I’m goal-oriented, I’m wound a little tight if I’m honest, and I tend to act fast in a given situation and work things out as I go, because my mindset is very much switched to problem solving and ticking off things to get done. It’s not easy for me to be still and allow things to not happen. I do meditate, but I meditate the same way I do a lot of things, which is, let’s say, in a controlled way.
Corpse pose is something different. It has struck such a chord with me because it brought up some very unexpected feelings. Beyond the lovely sensations of bodily relaxation, something else made itself known. Something warm, less quantifiable. It felt somehow loving and generous – surprisingly peaceful and touching. Kind of like the very things I never really appreciated or believed in about the much lauded yoga practice. So maybe that’s why the impact was so forceful for me.
To give yourself completely over to the ground, to feel your breath moving you in a way we probably don’t experience much during normal life, to allow peacefulness to enter and to let go of plans, ideas, schemes, worries… yet to still be very much present, very much within yourself…
It was powerful. And I love it.
I’ve no doubt that as I progress I will find more opening poses, more dramatic physical expressions, but I’m not sure anything will leave quite as strong an impression, because through something so simple came such an immediate and sweet reward.
We can be a little hard on ourselves, sometimes. Some people more than others. The risks of opening up and trusting seem profound. But sometimes the simplest exercise can give you a glimpse into how easy things can be if you stop complicating them.
Sometimes the answer to crisis is just to lie down, relax into the floor, and breathe.
I hope some beginners find it useful to hear about other people’s yoga journeys.
I would really love to hear about your experiences, so leave a comment – beginners and the more advanced – let me know your milestones, and especially your favourite poses.
Why do you love them?
What should I be looking out for to get the best out of them?
Let us know below!
This Week’s Recipe: Satisfying Textures, adapted from Honestly Healthy Food
Important: While we hope to inspire you with new and clean ingredients, you MUST make sure that all ingredients you use are compatible with your own individual medical conditions, medication, allergies and goals.
BURMESE CURRY WITH CHIA ‘POPPADOMS’
Serving: 2| Cooking time: Curry 20 minutes | poppadoms 40 minutes | Skill: Moderate
For the Poppadoms:
4tbsp chia seeds
20g thinly sliced red onion
1 clove garlic, finely grated
1tbsp ground coriander
1tbsp ground ginger
1tbsp fennel seeds
Pinch salt & pepper
For the Curry Paste:
6g fresh chilli
Juice & zest of ½ a lemon
40g of shallots
¼tsp Himalayan pink salt
Juice of 1 small or ½ a large lemon
2 tbsp roughly chopped coriander
For the Curry:
1 tbsp olive oil
80g shallots, sliced
400g sweet potatoes cut into 2cm cubes
1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
5g ginger cut into 0.5cm matchsticks
1tbsp coconut palm sugar
240g aubergine, cut into 3.5cm batons
500ml vegetable stock
12g green beans
- Pre-heat the oven to 175°C
- For the poppadom, combine all of the ingredients and soak for 20 minutes. Next spread them onto a piece of baking paper until around 2 mm thick. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes, turn over and cook for a further 20 minutes.
- For the curry, blitz all of the ingredients for your curry paste in a high speed blender until smooth. Transfer to a pan with the olive oil and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Next add the shallots and continue to sauté for a further 2-3 minutes.
- Add the sweet potatoes, garlic, turmeric, ginger, tamari and palm sugar to the pan and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Just add 3tbsp of water at a time if the mixture starts to stick.
- Next, add the stock and simmer on a medium heat for 5 minutes and then add the aubergine. Continue to simmer until the vegetables are soft, finally adding in the green beans for the last 2- 3 minutes of cooking. Stir through the coriander and serve with the Omega 3 packed chia poppadum.