A couple of months ago, I fell in love with the practice of yoga. As I straddle into the class for my first time, having googled images of wondrous, sometimes gravity-defying poses, I had full confidence that I can pull it off...and that is as good as fiction. It was harder than I thought and for the first few weeks made me sweat in pain and feels more like self-inflicted torture to numb other issues within me that I can't specify. But I keep coming back to the studio like a helpless lover.
There was no specific reason why I keep finding myself laying a yoga mat in the small studio every other day of the week. I realised that everytime I hit the ground, however ungraceful, I feel alive. The pain of stretching under-utilised muscles in my body morph into a relieving sense of gratitude and humility. Any stretch that pains the first few times will dilute into satisfying sense of flexibility after every practice. Perhaps its the intimate experience of having my body responding to my efforts, I have found a connection with myself that I never knew before. I am not flexible person, it is to the point that stretching any vital muscles, the hamstring, for example, feels more like an attempt to break a piece of branch into two and assemble it again. That's what happens when you don't bother to be active while growing up.
As anyone who has ever commit to a group yoga class know, there is such a 'phenomenon' called the yoga "pose-off". Some people are born flexible and some have twigs for joints (me). Flexible folks are able to flaunt a yoga pose effortlessly as if their natural standing posture is the handstand. Even when they're doing it for the first time, they are poise. Then there are the senior and more advanced students who become flexible through practice. Sometimes a slight tense can be felt in the studio as students participate in the "pose off", competing on who can go into poses the fastest and hold the longest. I, at some point, was a part of the cult. I would be so adamant to get into a pose that I couldn't care less how. Then I started to realise that I have stop enjoying the class much less the sensory and spiritual experience of yoga. I was no longer connecting to my body, I was connecting to my ego. As always when it comes to any ego-serving actions, the universe retaliate with a cruel vengeance. I become easily frustrated when I can't go into a pose and blame my twiggy limbs for it.
Word of advice: Don't be that kind of person. Don't be a yoga douche.
When my face was close to exploding in frustration, a wise yogi told me to learn how to BREATHE. It sounds so simple and basic. Well, that's what I've been doing all my life so it should be automatic right. Am I not breathing? If not, how is it I'm alive? But apparently proper breathing, which is essential to yoga, meditation and ancient health practice is a lost art in the modern world. People just don't know how to breathe properly anymore and this leads to agitation, nervousness and lack of self-control, not realising that breathing is the god-given ability that not just gave us life but soothes our nervous system and relax the muscle. The proper way of breathing involves engaging the abdomen--the easiest indication is the expansion and contraction of your stomach as you inhale and exhale the air from your body. The usual way of breathing will usually be short in length compared to proper breathing and only engages the lungs, denying the body time to fully absorb the grace of air in our body.
Only when I tried it that I notice the difference--not just that it makes it easier to go into a pose but also gave me so much peace in mind and body. I learn as I focus more on my breathing that I couldn't care less what the girl with the pink yoga mat at the edge of the class is doing and instead engage with my body more and learn to love its imperfection and stiffness with optimism that eventually my limbs and muscle, my breath and soul will learn to co-operate in perfect harmony. Getting rid of the stiffness in one's body, having the ability to bend and fold gives me freedom that I never knew I have. The more the muscle stretch, the more blood flows and oxygen the body receive, the healthier and stronger I become. I no longer rush into poses and understand, in humility, that some poses are hard for me and that it is okay as long as I don't give up. With that, my body is no longer constrained by pain and stiffness but empowered to be stronger and softer. The trick in yoga and breathing is practically simple and essential to life, not just the practice. As I begin to embrace the journey of growing and nurturing my body and soul, I learn the essence of being present for nothing can be achieved in truth without it.
In fact some of the yoga teachers I know are not overnight yoginis--their practice did not take place in a month or two but years and some have to travel far and deal with injuries to be where they are. One of my fav yogini is Kino MacGregor and upon discovering her yoga tutorials on Youtube, I was instantly hooked. She was also stiffed and 'hard' when she first started the practice but now her strength and flexibility is an inspiration to many. As she said it perfectly;
"In the yoga practice, we cannot control when the body will release and open. All we can do is show up each day and practice while letting go of the need to get any particular result. The openings and transformations that happen through yoga practice occur because we surrender ourselves to the divine and in that grace we experience our natural freedom. There is no way to rush the process," - here
(This video relates to a pose that is very difficult, if not seemingly impossible for me to do--the straddle split--as I have a very, very tight inner thigh. But watching this video and practising continuously give me hope that maybe one day I would be able to do it)