by Leigh Stewart
Yoga teacher, education developer
1. There are no rules
Only guidelines. Some of the best advice I ever received in the yoga room came in a class with Seane Corn as she opened with the words, “Breathe in a way that feeds your practice.” So often we are instructed on how to do things, rather than asked to think about the optimal way to do these things for ourselves.
Seane’s words challenged students to look within themselves to find a solution, rather than directing them outside themselves for external guidance. If you listen, your body will tell you what it needs. This is why we must take everything that yoga teachers say with a critical ear.
Often teachers are speaking to a many students at once, making personalization of dialogue difficult. See your yoga class as an outline and your body as the paint that illustrates between the lines. Expanding on Seane’s words: move in a way that feeds your body.
2. There is no “yoga body”
And, while we’re at it, the clothes don’t make the yogi either! But back to the first point — there is no one “yoga body.” At present, our culture is ridden with a consumerism that feeds off inadequacy, particularly of malleable female demographics. We are told we need to change in order to be able to achieve beauty, sex appeal, etc.
Unfortunately, western yoga inherently finds itself a part of this consumerism. What is important to remember is that you are capable of achieving on and off the mat the way you are. Spending time on the mat, you might find that you want to change aspects of your lifestyle to mirror the sustainability you find yourself creating through your yoga practice, but let desires to change come from the heart rather than the media.
3. There is no comparison
If you’re new to yoga, or anything for that matter, it’s natural to be curious and look to others for guidance. Certainly other yogis can be great models when you hear ambiguous phrases like,” let the collar bones smile, ground down into the pelvic floor and let the eyes of the elbows face forward.” Looking to others for a general sense of what’s going on is great, but when this seeps into comparison things can get messy.
Work to center attention on your personal practice. Rather than watch asana, do asana!
Two of my favorite ways to maintain my focus are to use a mirror (if your studio has one) and to [safely] close the eyes during class. Fixing your eyes in the mirror will enable you to make visible corrections for your body. Letting the eyes close will allow the body to make these corrections.
4. There is no “right” yoga diet
Yes, I know I’m walking on shaky ground — but, just as there is not one yoga body, there is not one yoga diet. Hereditary conditions, cultural upbringing and general lifestyle all play roles in the needs our bodies express through hunger. While a lighter, vegetarian diet is popular in the yoga community because abstaining from meat can make the digestion process swifter, this is not for everyone.
A good friend, great yoga teacher and vegetarian of nine years, ShiraEngel, informed me that she was reintroducing meat into her diet. The opportunity to travel to Cuba led her to research food options and realize that a vegetarian diet for her extended stay would not provide her body the nutrients it needs to sustain her active lifestyle.
Yoga is about creating awareness in all categories of life. In the context of healthy eating, this means learning to check in with your body and asking yourself what will literally feed your lifestyle most sustainably and enjoyably.
5. One size does not fit all
Yoga, to me, is a practice that connects breath and body. There are many ways to connect these two things and yoga in the modern world does a great job to exemplify this, as it ranges from sweat-soaked sequences to relaxing, prop-based classes.
If you are new to yoga, understand that you are opening the door to a big city: a city with neighborhoods ranging from Iyengar to vinyasa, Bikram to yin. Some of these places will feel like a second home and others will feel foreign
My advice to new yogis: be brave enough to explore. Areas like New York City offer yoga passbooks, which will allow you to try out multiple styles at a very low cost. Look for introductory deals to new studios, and attend free yoga events offered at community centers and through local retailers like Lululemon.
The yoga I did 10 years ago is vastly different than the yoga I gravitate towards today. Know that, as you evolve, so will your yoga practice. And, in the words of Shannon Kaiser, “recognize the journey as the reward.”
About the Author
"Leigh is a freelancer, education developer, and radio DJ. When she’s not writing, creating or mixing up the beats, she’s teaching yoga at Paradise Cove Resort in Fiji’s Yasawa Islands. Channeling her passions for health and wellness into education, she teaches kids and adult yoga daily. Check out her website for funky playlists to inspire your dancing mood."