|"Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness."|
- Chinese Proverb
People have been asking me how to get started in yoga on the regular these days. This makes me so happy because there is nothing I love more than sharing the practices with friends, family and basically anyone with a pulse and an internet connection. The conversation usually starts something like this: "I did yoga once and I SUCKED at it" or "I tried a yoga DVD once but I don't have the attention span," or "I can't even touch my toes," or any other number of self-condemning statements and excuses. I've literally heard and attempted to refute them all.
Maybe you've never seriously attempted to begin a daily yoga practice (going once in college does not count), but I'm sure you've started something else brand new before. Maybe running or Cross Fit or playing an instrument or even just working at a new job. I remember the first day at my first internship when literally EVERYTHING from printing to faxing to adjusting the height of my rolling chair was completely bewildering. I stood awkwardly in front of the communal print/fax/scan area, trying to appear marginally competent. I am an Ivy League student, goddamnit, why is this so HARD?
That's the thing about starting something new- generally, you kinda have to suck at it a little bit before you become decent and eventually "good."
For me, deciding to teach yoga was a very humbling experience. I had to consciously choose to be pretty darn awkward in front of rooms full of people, repeatedly. I had to sit my ego down and say, "look. we're about to fumble our words, forget right from left and the names of basic body parts, lose any sense of rhythm we've ever had, trip over more than one water bottle and, oh yeah- lots of people are going to be there to watch us struggle, including friends, colleagues and yoga teachers you respect and admire, cool?." AWESOME.
Before making this leap I had a job that I had done for a very long time, and was very good at. I knew it, people confirmed it, and I got to coast through most of my work most of the time. I rarely tried anything new, and therefore rarely had the big scary opportunity to look foolish or even "fail." Then I got this bright idea to start teaching yoga and it was like I was back in front of my first fax machine again having a panic attack. Does the paper face up or down? Where does the paper even go?? Do I have to hit "9" to dial out?? Everyone is looking at me fuddle with the buttons like an idiot!!! Oh my god I should quit right now! Why did they even hire me??! I'm making such a fool of myself! I suck!!!
And yes, it's perfectly normal to feel that way. Maybe you're a badass runner or a SoulCycle devotee and damn proud of it. You're the queen or king of your weight room and the thought of looking like a tool in the back of the yoga studio provokes feelings of extreme anxiety. Maybe the fear of not being good and maybe even - for shame- the "worst" yogi in the room (oh yes, I've heard that excuse before) is keeping you from giving it a go, even though you've been thinking about trying yoga or going back to it for some time.
Let me give you the good news and the bad news all at once: It's normal to go to a Basics class and slip on your own sweat trying to stand still on two feet (when did that become so hard?). It's normal to mumble along indiscriminately while others are chanting their little hearts out (I still do this sometimes). It's perfectly fine to stay in child's pose for 50% of class or take early Savasana (or to not know what Savasana is) and just lie there on your back. The tighter ("but I'm not flexible!"), more stressed out ("I don't have TIME for yoga!"), type A ("will I be burning enough CALORIES??"), and spacey ("I'm too ADD for yoga") you are, the more you're going to benefit from it. Sure, there will be more perceived sucking initially, but the rewards will be that much sweeter.
You know who doesn't suffer through that awkward beginning phase? People who are too afraid of "looking bad" that stay home and never try. I'm sure they look super cool, sitting on their couch, not doing yoga and probably not trying anything else new that they might not be "good" at right away either. I won't do the "babies learning how to walk" analogy about falling down unashamedly time after time after time til they get it right, but y'all know that shit is true!
The best way to begin a yoga practice is with love for yourself and a whole lotta humility. Don't take yourself too seriously. Don't take the poses seriously. Don't worry about what other people think. Don't worry about what YOU think, or that you can't seem to stop thinking, even when you're supposed to be "focusing on your breath" (or whatever that crazy yoga teacher is telling you while you're tripping over your feet and dripping sweat all over your neighbors mat).
Start slow. And start at the beginning. Eventually over time, you'll realize that the poses don't matter at all, but for now- just start. "Better to light one small candle then to curse the darkness", right? And let me know how it goes!