I used to hate yoga. The first few times I went to class was because my mother brought my sisters and I every Sunday, and I just went along because everyone else was going. I stopped shortly after starting and did not practice yoga for a few years, especially when I went to England to study. Until earlier this year, when I discovered the Adidas Studio London, a space which has a new schedule and different teachers every week, meaning I had the awesome opportunity to be exposed to different styles of yoga and teaching. It was through going for all these different yoga classes that I realised how much I genuinely enjoy practicing physical asanasin yoga. Looking back to my first few yoga classes, these are some misconceptions and thoughts I had about yoga…
- “Yoga is not exercise”
As a school team tennis player who could endure physical conditioning sessions and long hours of non-stop drills or rallying, I thought yoga would be a breeze. I remember when we were holding parivrtta parsvakonasana(revolved side angle pose), the teacher came round and asked me to engage my adductor group (inner thighs), but I was already contracting it as much as I could – it was then that I realised I had so little strength compared to those around me. It was definitely frustrating, where I liked how other forms of physical exercise would leave me dripping with sweat and my heart racing, feeling like I really got a good workout. Whereas yoga was less aerobically intense, yet still tiring. I’ve now learnt that yoga requires the combination of strength, flexibility and stamina, which I would definitely consider exercise, and brings me on to my next point…
2. “You need to be flexible to do yoga”
When I went for yoga classes a couple years back, I couldn’t touch my toes – meanwhile everyone else could effortlessly go into paschimottanasana (seated forward fold). No matter how much I tried, I was just so exasperated trying to reach further that I neglected my breath – which can really help to deepen the stretch. Fast forward to now, I can comfortably touch my toes. Yes, it helps if you’re flexible, but by practicing physical asanas in yoga, you’ll naturally increase your flexibility. Bottom line is, you don’t need to be flexible to do yoga, but you can certainly gain flexibility by practicing regularly.
3.“I have no idea what I’m doing”
Being new to yoga, I didn’t know what adho mukha svanasana (downward dog) was, meaning I was mostly looking around and desperately trying to copy people around me before everyone moved onto the next asana. Everyone else in class seemed to know what they were doing, but I was just clueless. Over time, I’ve come to realise that not many people reallyknow what they’re doing, and it’s through going to more classes, watching yoga videos and having a teacher adjust us that we learn how to properly execute asanas with correct alignment and depth. Beyond that, yoga doesn’t have to look a certain way – each individual’s anatomical structure is different, and it’s more about moving with yourown body and breath, so it will most likely be different from the person next to you. As long as you do what feels right to your body, it will all come together eventually.
4. “What is this weird chanting and breathing and foreign words”
The first few classes I went for always started off with an opening mantra and focussed a lot on breath work. The teacher also used the Sanskrit names for the asanas, leaving me more confused than I already was. I’ve now come to understand that yoga is a form of meditation combined with movement – which requires focus on breath, especially so during the challenging asanas. By keeping our breath steady during the difficult parts of yoga, we can translate this to real life stress and challenges we may face and become more mindful. In yoga, we usually inhale and exhale through the nose, and try to focus on grounding our breath at a steady pace. It’s also so important to go into downward dog or child’s pose if we lose our breath. When I was still new to practice, I was always reluctant to do so because I thought others would consider me “weak”, but I’ve realised I know my body best and can feel when I need to reconnect with my breath, so we shouldn’t hesitate to take a rest when needed and take a moment to listen to our bodies. As for the Sanskrit, teachers often say the common name of the pose together with the Sanskrit name, and with time, you’ll come to recognise most of the basic names.
5. “Yoga is for 太太s (n., housewives who do not need to work; usually rich)“
When I heard the word “yoga”, I would think of rich housewives going for yoga in their expensive leggings before heading to brunch or high tea after… which is so inaccurate. I was self-conscious of what I wore to my first few classes, but after a while I stopped caring and felt comfortable because I realised hey, no one really cares what you’re wearing. People are there for yoga, to practice physical asanas, focus on their breath and find calm in the middle of their busy lives. Besides that, although majority of those who come to yoga are female, there are indeed males who practice yoga. I think it’s amazing how they can be so comfortable and confident in a room full of girls, where I know of quite a few guys who are reluctant to go for yoga because they think “it’s just for girls”, “I’m not flexible enough”, “it isn’t challenging enough”… the list goes on.
As I’m about to graduate YTT, it’s interesting to see how far I’ve come, from someone who dreaded going to class to growing to love yoga and hopefully teaching classes soon. Through these experiences, my little nugget of wisdom would be to go to stick it out at first and keep going to classes – because not only are there so many different types of yoga, but each teacher has a different style of teaching. So even if you hate your first class, give it another go and hopefully you find a style of yoga you enjoy. I do believe that yoga is for everybody and everybody – no matter the size or shape, regardless of flexibility or fitness level, yoga is welcoming and meant for everyone, you just have to give it a shot.