The Beginner

Posted by on Jun 10, 2012 in Blog | Comments Off on The Beginner

I remember the intimidation of walking into my first yoga class in 2000.  My friend and I were in grad school, suffering from the particular kind of anxiety that comes with long papers and short deadlines, and we had heard about the yogic claims of calmness. After digging pretty deep to find yoga offerings in our area, we came across The Yoga Sanctuary on Carlton at Yonge.  Wearing a pair of shorts (not particularly flexible) and a t-shirt, I rented a mat and walked into the ballroom of a practice space.  There, at 6:30pm on a Wednesday, was an expansive oval of people, corners of mats touching, and my heart sank.  We skulked to the farthest place away from the teacher (the amazing Cynthia Funk) and tried to hide.

It was an all-level class, and the body instruction was constant and precise.  Exactly what we needed.  The floating assistants spent much time hovering behind us as we craned our necks to try and see what Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog )looked like.  I remember burning wrists and a sore neck.  Then craning our necks to see what Chatturanga Dandasana looked like.  I remember falling onto my stomach.  (Over and over again).  I remember thinking that Paripurna Navasana (boat pose) looked manageable, then tipping my torso back and shaking like there was a 8.9 earthquake beneath my mat alone.  I remember spending most of my yoga classes in a state of mild embarrassment.  I remember tight shoulders, sore and wobbly legs, shaking abdominals, bent knees in all of my forward bends.  I remember a particular moment in Trikonasana (triangle pose), trying to turn my head up to look at my raised hand and thinking “this is the worst pose ever.  When is it over?  When is it over?  When is it over…..?”  And so on.  But we went back.  Again and again.

These are only my first recollections of what it was to “feel like a beginner” in a yoga practice.  But there are more recent examples; I needn’t go all the way back to the start.  There were the years where I was no longer falling onto my mat in chatturanga, but was trying to fly through it into upward dog instead, still avoiding the pose as anything but a transition.  There was a long time of falling out of Bakasana (crow pose) like I was a house of cards.  There were years of donkey kicking, trying to make it to a wall-supported Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand), of trying to lift my dead-weight legs up off of the ground to move into tripod Sirsasana (headstand) from Prasarita Padottanasana (wide leg forward fold).  I went into my teacher training with deep insecurities, believing that I was out of place for all of my weak transitions, all of the poses I lacked.

But here’s the thing.  Yoga is never done.  You can never “get” the full practice and lose what it is to learn something new.  I can hold Chatturanga now, move into headstand, handstand, and have figured out ways to move my body into more difficult arm balances, but I still feel like a beginner.  Just as in life, there are people out there who can do things you can’t.  Rather than looking at this as something you lack, look at it as being given the gift of having more to learn.

I realize now that one of the most emphatic things that draws me to yoga is the neverendingness of it.  Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by just how much is out there to learn and experience, but most times I’m inspired by the wealth of what awaits.  I love being a learner.  After leaving grad school, I went to teacher’s college.  After teacher’s college, I took online classes.  After that, I started taking yoga training programs.  I don’t foresee the end to it.  I want to train in so many different areas of yoga because different practices stir my desire to expand my world, my practice.  I don’t ever expect to be done, to feel that what I’ve got is good enough.  It’s not perfectionism, it’s stimulation.

When you sit on your mat, try not to see your practice as a series of poses that you need to “get”.  It’s always going to be a work in progress, and in order to surrender to the flow of it all, you have to let go of your desire to master something that is ever expanding.  If you have a set series of poses you work with, of course you will see improvement over time and find more comfort in your expression of them.  But to feel it’s done is an illusion.  Try another teacher, research, prepare and practice a new pose, try a different style, try meditating longer, read a yogic text and you’ll see that to practice yoga (whether you are leading the class or taking the class) is to forever accept the role of being a student.

And yoga is a very good teacher.



All content by Lisa Veronese. Please do not publish or copy my material without my consent.