Maybe you think of yoga as being a very gentle stretch exercise or maybe you have visions of people seating and chanting… Or maybe you think that is too hard physically, having seen people doing impressive poses, so it’s not for you!!
There are numerous styles of yoga, so it can be really confusing. All the above assumptions about yoga can be correct! Yoga can be seating and chanting, as well as doing a kick-ass asana/movement session. So, is yoga for you?
Of course, most yoga teachers will say ‘yoga is for everybody. That’s why there are different styles, and different ways to approach yoga, for different moments in your life and for different personalities.
There’s the ‘hard way’, no reward without effort.
There are schools of yoga that will tell you things like ‘the pose begins when you want to quit’, or teachers that will tell you to push a bit more, to hold it for longer, they might even physically manipulate you to ‘help’ you reach a certain shape.
Have you ever had a teacher lying on your back in a forward fold to try to flatten you to the floor? or standing on your thighs while you do butterfly pose to try to get your knees closer to the floor…? No? Good!! Phew.
Not only did I have it, but I loved it, and even asked for it. I had bought into the idea that it would make me ‘better’ somehow. That my postures will magically improve faster. I thought that adjustments were meant to be like that.
I believed that to be ‘good’ at yoga I had to achieve the ‘complex’ poses, and that pushing myself was the only way. Clearly, I was buying into the ‘no pain, no gain’ culture.
Then, the opposite, let’s call it the ‘easy does it way’.
This one will take you much further, in my opinion. The body needs to trust you to go where you want it to go, not pushed into submission.
Nowadays, most yoga styles and teachers actually will tell their students that the pose is found in the place between effort and ease, and to only do what they can. Unfortunately, some type A personalities will still challenge themselves, go for 100% effort and stretch past their edge. In an effort to ‘improve’, or to ‘do or be better at yoga’. Injuries, here we come!!
Yoga is not a competition… not even with yourself! Of course, we want to get better, go to the ‘next level’… whatever that means.
In fact, it’s not so much ‘the next level’ as the feeling we get when we achieve a goal. As I mentioned in ‘Can yoga build your confidence?’, one of the side effects of yoga is an increase in our confidence.
When we finally get that thing we find hard, we are inundated with Dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure. There is a reward system involved in dopamine which helps to incite a positive mood and heighten motivation.
But we shouldn’t chase the goal at all costs.
At the end of the day, yoga is a practice, a system to attain self-awareness, not a ‘feel good’ tool where you can do whatever you want.
Sure, there are schools of yoga that go will tell you… ‘only do what feels right’, ‘listen to your body’, ‘be your own teacher’…
None of those statements is intrinsically wrong, but… there might be a problem with that:
Some people have been ‘divorced’ from their bodies for so long that find it difficult to ‘listen’ to their bodies.
Even if you think you are listening… How well do you interpret the messages from your body? You need to be pretty much in tune to knowing if what you are feeling is pain or discomfort and if the instruction is going to be beneficial or damaging.
Luckily that’s a skill that can be learned. In yoga (that’s why I love the slowest yoga practices) we spend a lot of time in slow and deliberate movements, to start creating a relationship of trust with our bodies.
That relationship of trust works both ways, you learn to listen and the body slowly learns to go that little bit further.
You might think, ok… that’s fine, I don’t need to listen to my body. How about listening to my mind or even my feelings? Honestly, not to be trusted!
Just because you think it or feel it, it’s not necessarily true.
Sometimes it feels right to stay in child pose for all of the practice… but, all the time? Do you always go for the most comfortable option? Maybe you need it… but maybe your mind is keeping you in your comfort zone and you may need a little challenge.
I think I’m pretty in tune with my body, and yet, sometimes I ‘don’t feel like doing a strong practice or a particular pose because it’s hard or difficult and I don’t 'enjoy' it… but like a child that needs to eat their vegetables, I need to not pay attention to what my mind is telling me and focus on the practice. Sometimes. Other times it’s more beneficial to lie down and move with care, or don’t move at all.
At the end of the day, your mind is just trying to protect you by keeping you in your comfort zone. So you need a teacher that can gently encourage you to challenge yourself, but that also will give you some freedom and space to experiment and take a step back when needed.
So, to push or not to push, one style of yoga or another? What I’m saying is… it depends.
You are unique. You are an individual and of course, you know best. If the teacher is telling you to stay a bit longer in a pose, but you know you’ve gone already too far and you are not feeling right… by all means, get out of the pose. I’m definitely not an advocate of the ‘no pain, no gain’ school.
But on the other hand, before quickly rushing out of a pose at the slight discomfort, or pushing yourself beyond what’s safe for your body… Ask yourself, how hard should yoga be right now? Does it feel too hard, or challenging enough for my circumstances?
The following are a series of questions you can start asking yourself that will help you discern better the messages that your body and mind are sending you :
- What are you feeling exactly? where is the sensation?, what kind of sensation is it? how strong? pain or discomfort?, what would happen if you explore it for a bit longer, maybe adjusting a little part of it?
- Finally, what part of your mind wants you to quit? The one that wants to keep you in your comfort zone or the one that knows best your body and tells you it’s safer and more beneficial in the long run to do a gentler version today?
Doesn’t matter how much experience a teacher has, they can NEVER know how you actually feel inside. The more experienced, the better they can guess… but only you know exactly how you feel or what you feel.
So yes, listen to your body. But first, make sure that you know how to interpret those signals and that you’ve built a rapport with your body.
If you’ve taken any class with me, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of offering empowering cues by giving autonomy back to the student. But to be clear, I’m not saying that you should just do whatever you want all the time in a class and that ‘anything goes’.
Yoga is a millenarian tradition for a reason.
So, following a teacher is best. But with so many teachers out there and so many different styles of yoga….
Is yoga for you even? What type of yoga is best for you… right at this moment?
- Some styles of yoga can be very rigid in their approach to asana alignment.
- Others are less so.
- Some styles will get you to repeat the same sequence, over and over and over.
- Others are very creative, changing sequences and flows all the time.
- Some styles will give you a thorough workout!
- Other styles, like yin or restorative, will give your body the nourishment and relaxation that desperately needs
All the above can be great, depending on your particular needs. And aren’t incompatible either. It’d be good if you could become more aware of some of the different styles.
I know it can be confusing, but if you aren’t aware that there are different options and different styles… you might miss out.
If the first class you take is not quite right for you or for this point in your life, or if your first experience is with a teacher you don’t connect with… maybe you end up giving up and missing all the benefits you can get out of it.
And we don’t want that. The benefits you can get from a ‘simple’ Pranayama practice, or from 15 minutes of conscious movement are so transformational that it’d be a shame to give up for lack of information.
Some people stop trying yoga after one or two experiences that didn’t quite work out for them.
Others always compare their teachers to that first class that was so amazing.
Others might even go to a class and not think it’s yoga because it’s not what they expected.
You are unique, your body is unique, your circumstances are unique and even the day you just had is unique!!
So start listening more to your needs, learn to tune in with your body.
Find the style of yoga that suits you at this moment of your life… or day!
- Find a teacher that can guide you and that will offer you options.
- Have a more personalised approach, try private coaching for a while.
- Go to a small class where you feel comfortable and safe, and are encouraged to play and experiment.
- Ask questions after class. Teachers are always excited to talk about yoga… at least I am! I love ‘to nerd out’ about yoga and then share it with others.
So… is yoga for you? maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
But don’t let a preconceived idea of what yoga is to stop you from trying different options. If you need a stronger workout at this point there is a style for you, if you need a more nourishing practice, you can also find a style for you.
As for how hard should you push? In my opinion… not much… but again, it depends. Depending on your goal and how well you really know yourself.
Montse has been working for the last 30 years in the world of theatre and performance as a director, mentor and performer. Her passion for sharing her knowledge and her desire to help others realise their true potential has led her onto the path of yoga teaching.
Her classes are relaxed, friendly and with elements of yin, yang and humour where everyone feels welcome, regardless of their skill. Montse’s motto is ‘be your own template’, both in life and in yoga…
Your shape is unique and so is your life so don’t follow the ‘should be like this’ crowd and don’t try to fit into anyone else’s path, find your own… on and off the mat.
If you are ready to commit to your self-development in a more holistic way and would like to chat with me about it. Book a free friendly call to discuss your needs.