Friday, July 30, 2010

My yoga experience

I first began practicing yoga four years ago, in my first year of acting school. Being an arrogant nineteen year old, my first reaction when told we would be practicing yoga everyday was 'oh not that esoteric, spiritual crap!.' And indeed I didn't get that much out of yoga for the first few weeks. I've since found out that it was partly because of my negative attitude and also because our instructor Lauren, taught the gentlest style of yoga there is which is called 'hatha' yoga. 'Hatha' is basically all about the spiritual aspect of yoga and the poses that are integrated are very basic. So it was basically all my worst fears of yoga being realised! I remember being freaked out by the chanting and thought that any minute, someone would bring a lamb out for us to sacrifice.

However in the second term Lauren couldn't take our class anymore for one reason or another and was subsequently replaced by Lucia (who was also our movement teacher.) Lucia was a tiny powerhouse of a woman, she couldn't have been over five foot but I swear she would have probably been able to lift up the biggest guy in our class with ease. She was also incredibly sweet and encouraging which are great qualities for a yoga instructor to have. She taught a more physically challenging style of yoga called 'ashtanga' (which is now my preferred style.) This is when I started to actually enjoy going to yoga everyday and started seeing the benefits, at least the physical benefits anyway because by the end of first year I was in the best shape I'd ever been in. I was doing yoga three times a week, movement class twice a week and doing cardio at the gym 3-4 times a week and weirdly enough I wasn't tired, I was full of energy! I really feel like it's the yoga that invigorated me and improved my technique in the other physical activities I was undertaking. I still wasn't that keen on the mental side of it though and can often remember zoning out in the meditation portion at the end. Worse than that I can remember consciously thinking 'I'll do the physical stuff but you can't force me into any of this meditation nonsense' which is a terrible thing to think and completely misses the point.

Lucia then left to have a baby (I've seen her since then and you'd never guess she's had two children, she has abs of steel!) and was replaced by a lady called Yvonne. Yvonne was more like a drill sergeant than a yoga instructor. Ideally an instructor should create an environment which is calming and serene for yoga practice, but the atmosphere when Yvonne taught was always very tense. This is partly because she would just bark orders at us and would make people feel inadequate if they couldn't do certain poses. Consequently a lot of people in my class ended up wagging yoga class once Yvonne took over. I was still going everyday purely because I was still reaping the physical benefits despite the instructor being a nazi.

The year after I finished acting school, I wasn't practicing regularly. I did the odd class here or there at the gym and sometimes did my own practice but it was hard to motivate myself, at it had always just been apart of my mindless, daily routine. The classes that I did take at this time were lead by a man named Bernie. Bernie looked more like an ex-marine than a yoga instructor, he was about 60, bald but (bizarrely) built like a brick shit house! I didn't get much out of Bernie's classes as I had gotten used to practicing yoga in a more fluid style, with set routines that you move through and Bernie just seemed to proclaim 'okay class we're going to do this pose' and demonstrate it for us and continue on like that. The poses were challenging but the whole thing just seemed disjointed and this is when I realised that when you take the spirituality out of yoga, it ceases to become yoga and turns into a workout session.

This year I have began regularly taking classes again,once or twice a week at the gym with Yogi (which isn't his actual name it's just a title given to a very experienced yoga instructor, similar to being called a sensai.) This particular brand of yoga is called 'ashtanga vinyasa' which is ashtanga yoga which also focuses on fluidity of movement and poise. In all my years of practicing yoga, this class has proven to be the most rewarding. This is probably because I'm much more mature and open minded now and am not afraid to open myself up to new concepts and experiences. I had an epiphany a few months ago in yoga class when Yogi explained the importance of synchronising your breath and movement. He said that whether you can do the pose or not doesn't really matter, breathing through the pose is what's important as it teaches you to approach difficult situations in life with a sense of calm and ease. No one had ever explained it to me like that before. Likewise, it's important to get out of a pose with control and not simply fall out of it.

Something which Yogi constantly repeats is 'no judgement, honour the limitations of your body.' Which means both not judging others for what they can and can't do but also not judging yourself if you can't accomplish something either. This is something I'm still working on as it can be hard to not get frustrated at your own short comings (not just in yoga but in life also.) I still have a lot to learn in yoga, despite what it may seem, as there's much more to yoga than flexibility. It wasn't until I started taking this particular class that I realised my balance and alignment is all over the shop. I think other instructors in the past just saw that I was extremely flexible and thought it meant that I must have it all figured out. But Yogi often comes over to correct my alignment which in turn improves my overall technique.

It may be quite obvious by now but I have such profound respect for Yogi (even though he probably doesn't know it!) Two weeks ago after class, I quietly folded up my mat and exited as usual but as I was walking through the gym Yogi caught up to me, hugged me and said 'I'm so proud of you, I can see you're getting so much better!' I in turn thanked him for always coming over and adjusting me and he said that if someone shows an interest in yoga that he takes good care of them. I had such an overwhelming feeling of pride and I think that carried over into today's class as I had possibly the best yoga class I've ever experienced and that's what inspired me to write this blog.

Most of the time when I head towards the gym it's with a sense of dread and wanting to get it over and done with. But Yoga is the one class that I look forward to and really enjoy. I know that some of you practice yoga but for the rest of you I would really encourage you to give it a shot! Even if you think you don't have the flexibilty/fitness/stamina or you just think it's not really your thing (believe me I NEVER would have thought it would be something I would get into) you should just go to one class with an open mind and heart (as Yogi says) and you maybe surprised at what you'll find...




  1. That's cool Helly, glad you're enjoying it :)

    There's a yoga place in pennant hills that i'm going to check out, you've just inspired me to get a move on with it!

  2. I love a good yoga session. If you can do it right it gives a strange energy for the rest of the week. Glad you're enjoying the spiritual side as well!

  3. I’m glad that you find yoga an enjoyable and beneficial activity. A lot of old timers of this activity find it invigorating. For first timers, they may feel a little uneasy, especially with the poses and stance. But once they get the hang of it, they start to enjoy it and make it a habit.