What’s your idea of a perfect yogi(ni)? Ultra-bendy? Serene? Unflappable? Perfectly balanced? Serious?
Well, if so, I have a confession to make: I’m a yogini and a yoga teacher … and I’m none of those things.
- Am I ultra-bendy? I’m flexible but I still need to bend my knees in Sitting Forward Bend because of tightness in my hamstrings.
- Serene? My relaxation and meditation practices help me gain a sense of perspective on life, but no, I don’t go around in a state of perfect serenity, equanimity and zen calm all the time.
- Unflappable? I’m pretty laid back generally but I’ll get annoyed and have a bit of a whinge and sulk if something gets on my nerves.
- Perfectly balanced? I can balance when my mind is quiet but I’ll often wobble when demonstrating Dancer in class.
- Serious? I take my yoga seriously because it means a huge amount to me but I’ll have the giggles sometimes when teaching my classes (see point above!) or when I notice my mind doing its thing and going off on judgements and tangents when practising at home – and I feel all the better for it!
Plus, as well as loving:
I also enjoy this:
And I don’t say no to:
But none of that stops me from genuinely loving and experiencing:
Does that make me a bad yogini or teacher? No.
Hey, Buddha said, “everything in moderation, even moderation” so who am I to argue?!
What’s a good yoga practice?
Anyway, for me, practising yoga is not about adhering to a set of things I should be or should do. It’s not about performing the perfect pose – getting my nose to my knees in Forward Bend or forcing my heels to the floor in Downward Facing Dog. Nor is it about banishing the chattering of the mind.
No, for me it’s about an intention and approach to life.
For me, an effective yoga practice is about dedicating your intention to listening to your body and your breath and working with them. It’s about being honest about the emotions and thoughts which come up both during our practice and in everyday life and accepting them and taking responsibility for them and our actions.
But you’re not doing it right…
For some schools of yoga / yoga teachers, doing each posture “right” is important. I’ve heard tales of students being berated by their teacher for not doing it right and being man-handled into the “correct” pose.
Indeed, at the Yoga Show a couple of years ago I was in a Pranayama class with a very well known yoga and meditation teacher, who was very forthright with people who were sitting properly or hadn’t got the correct hand position for Alternate Nostril Breathing – she actually grabbed their hands and rather forcefully manipulated their fingers into place! I have to admit to being rather shocked at this – and a tad scared as she walked past me in case I was unwittingly doing something “wrong”! That’s not what I (or my students) need to feel practising yoga!
Yes, there’s safe alignment, which I observe and always point out in class (and scan my eye over every student to ensure they’ve in that safe alignment) but beyond that, what is the “right” way to practise yoga anyway? We’ve all got different levels of flexibility and abilities; we’ve all got different life experience stored in our bodies and minds.
In addition, there’s no shortage of advice on what you should and shouldn’t be eating / drinking / doing / thinking.
It can all conspire to disempower us and to make us feel not good enough. Blimey, there are enough messages coming from all sides through the media to make us feel not good enough without our yoga teachers and the yoga industry adding to them!
That’s why you’ll find me having a giggle and beaming away when I’m teaching my yoga classes and that’s why I don’t go around pedantically correcting my students’ postures in class.
… Oh, stop taking yourself so seriously!
My experience of yoga has been body, breath and mind work and a philosophy which have enabled me. Enabled me to improve my flexibility, calm my mind and experience states of contentment with myself and equilibrium with the world.
And for me, a big part of that has been developing the capacity not to take myself so seriously. To laugh at my mind and to giggle at the craziness in the world. To create a sense of lightness and ease in my mind (as the physical postures do the same for my body).
So I’m not going to push myself and punish myself by forcing myself into advanced poses which my body (and mind) aren’t ready for. So I only occasionally attempt the Wheel (without much success), I don’t practise Head Stand, and I don’t even attempt scary-looking arm balances. Yoga is not a competition as who can defy gravity in the craziest way (media picture editors, please take note!).
Lighten up and enjoy life
Yoga is about learning to listen in to yourself.
To work with your body … not against it. To be gentle with yourself … while gradually improving flexibility and releasing tension. To notice your emotions churning … and discover a stillness within the whirlwind. To observe your mind prattling away … and be able to smile at it doing its crazy thang.
Enjoy the practice. Have some fun. Lighten up a bit and smile.
As a yoga teacher, I see my role as to enable and empower those people who come to my class.
I’m not there to tell them they’re doing something wrong or right. I’m not there to encourage them to judge themselves and to find themselves wanting.
I’m there to encourage them to accept themselves and realize they are wonderful and perfect just as they are; to enjoy and accept their body by relearning how to listen to it; to appreciate the intelligence of the body and the miracle of its engineering; and to take some time to nurture themselves and let go.
… And face (+ enjoy) the greatest challenge
For me, the greatest challenge in yoga, and in life, is to develop the strength of our compassion and mindfulness.
That is why I practise yoga and that is why I teach it. I love it. I enjoy practising it. I’d like my students to have fun and develop a sense of lightness and ease through their practice with me.
And that is why you’ll find me, on my yoga mat having fun … with a smile on my face
Stella Tomlinson teaches slow, flowing Dru yoga in Southampton, UK, to improve posture, flexibility and spinal health. Dru yoga is characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations. It aims to relieve the stresses of modern-day living. Connect with Stella via Facebook and Twitter.