I started practicing yoga 15 years ago. Initially, I just wanted to complement my training regimen with proper stretching, and my gym offered a basic course. I took a deeper dive when I discovered the vinyasa or flow yoga, a well-balanced progression of poses that was always satisfying to complete. I then leveled up with Bikram yoga, or what I call the “pressure cooker,” which remains my all-time favorite workout.
I am by no means a competitive athlete, although I wish I was. Missing a shot, making a goal, losing and winning in rapid successions is just too stressful for me. I am just an avid spectator with the deepest admiration for many athletes. I am first and foremost a nerd, who prefer to stay indoors. But through study, I have learned the importance of staying fit in both mind and body. So I wanted to add a regular physical activity in my life without the pressure of winning or losing.
Yoga seemed like a great idea, and I can do it indoors.
There were a few surprises. In my first class, there was a strong focus on breathing and mindfulness. There was even chanting. I found that odd because I went in there just wanting to stretch. I was not prepared for rituals.
I would soon learn that deep breathing is integral to the practice. It is mandatory in performing the asanas (poses), especially the more challenging poses. Prior to yoga, I never paid attention to my breath. I am alive — I should be breathing right?
Focus is also a necessity. Yoga asanas gradually level up as you go along and not all of the poses are doable. Not yet, at least, especially for beginners. I have learned that it pays to concentrate on what the teacher is saying and on what your body can only do at that point. Do not pull that hamstring.
As I did yoga more regularly, I could feel myself transform. I am not athletic but I became committed. I cannot jump a hurdle but I could reach my toes. I am easily distracted but can concentrate well in the studio.
I am becoming better. Maybe I should stretch myself further.
Beyond its health benefits, which are well-known, yoga instilled in me a desire to dream big. If I can reach my toes while seated, then I can surely reach them while standing. If I can do the pigeon, maybe I can do a split. If I can do a headstand, maybe in the future, I can do a handstand.
The non-competitive non-athlete is now competing with her athletic self.
It does require patience, which I have learned the hard way. The crow, inversions, and splits are lofty goals, and only through everyday stretching can hardships be overcome. If you rush it, as I have done and continue to mistakenly do, tendonitis arises. It needs therapy and can set you back months due to total yoga abstinence. I urge you to follow your own pace, not your classmates’, because not all bodies are equal.
The challenge is in the unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar feels good. Always. If it doesn’t, then you are doing it wrong. It is important, especially for beginners, to train with a professional yoga instructor who will teach you how to do the poses correctly.
I am naturally averse to conflict, which is perhaps why I do not like to compete with other people. In yoga, the more I am at war with myself physically, the healthier and stronger I become. The harder the poses, the happier I become.
In a strange way, yoga practice has triggered in me a desire to compete and excel, which was unexpected. Done the right way, yoga is self-competition without the stress of losing. In fact, every time I do it, I am winning. I guess the challenge minus the stress was the real draw.