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My Yoga Truths

I have been teaching yoga for a long time. During that time I have seen the struggles and notable changes in my students. I would like to share some of my perspectives as a student and teacher.

As beginners, we all come to the mat feeling intimidated and even lost by all the instructions being given to us. Questioning if you are doing it right. You are not alone in this, there is a lot to learn in yoga. The important takeaway here is that it takes time to understand the poses by names and all the details of cues along with the relevance to your body. You may not see the changes in your flexibility and strength overnight but you will FEEL the difference and benefits right away. Consistency is key to making the changes physically and mentally. The more you practice the better you become at it.

It's ironic that many of us come to our mat to manage or navigate our daily stresses and find some ease yet we push, race and get aggressive with ourselves on the mat only adding to the feelings we are trying to cope with. It is important to realize that this too is normal behaviour that we ALL do on our mat. We are result-driven and goal-oriented people and we have been taught how to get those results by means of pushing and fighting through it. Here is another yoga secret, slowing down for that breath or observing the pose will actually improve your skills and strength on the mat and off. Being more subtle and practicing restraint and sensitivity will get you further on your mat in a safer manner. I know this doesn't sound entertaining or ambitious but try it and feel the difference in your body and mind and it will save you a lot of suffering.

Practicing yoga with the intent and the attitude to learn, instead of performing is a lesson every student struggles with. Firstly, we perform or prove ourselves and then to others around us in the class. The funny thing is that the people in the class do not care if you can do an arm balance or touch your toes. Everyone is there for their own reasons and experience. This is true for the students flying through their chaturanga flow. Slow them down and modify these movements for the best form and proper recruitment of muscles necessary. Honestly, chaturanga is one of the most problematic sources for injury on the mat, as in those forward folds. If you are not certain of something you are doing or perhaps feeling while practicing, ask your teacher for some tips.

This leads me to another point, take many styles and be open to different teachers' classes to see what resonates with you. If you ask over 1000 yoga teachers to name the most important element of yoga, 99.9% will say breathing. You will hear that word a million times and will forget it even more than that. Breathing, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly will be the defining and enriching element of your practice changing the experience completely from just exercise to a whole body and mind experience.

Like rebellious teenagers students typically refrain from grabbing those blocks when their hands are 2 feet from the ground, It is that “ I don't need help” mindset. Using support such as blocks, bolster and the wall is not only for new students but for all levels. I love using props in class as tools to assist in issues of flexibility and as a tool to strengthen and deepen the poses. The feeling of length and space, stability and ease all become more possible using props.

The mindful component for students is one of the most challenging struggles on the mat, from the beginning of class to the very end of Shavasana. We are not taught how to focus or sit quietly observing our breath, feelings and thoughts. Most people want to run away from all of that. This is one of the reasons students don’t attempt a class or do not return to a class. The fidgeting, impatience and frustration become all too real on the mat. Again this is a normal reaction to practice and everyone feels it but some keep coming and realize it gets better and becomes easier. There will always be those days when it seems impossible to sit and breathe but we ride that wave.

When I started practicing there was Hatha, Asthanga and Iyengar yoga as well as Vinyasa/Power flow which became more popular later. The first styles were the original and these were held postures with breath focus and slow controlled movements, with emphasis on breathing and mindfulness even philosophy. Furthermore, classes were longer in duration allowing time to prepare the body and get deeper as well as allowing a lengthened Shavasana. Who has time for an hour and a half-class? Like everything that has changed to suit the upswing of fast-paced lives getting in, job done and out mentality. Studios and gyms are trying to please the desire of the students and retain them as customers.

Finding our edge is a phrase you will hear many times in class. What does this even mean? This is about finding the balance between the tone of the stretch, demanding enough to keep focused and not too demanding to lose the sweet spot in the pose. Finding just enough or just right. This is our threshold and it is relative to the individual that is practicing. The practice is your practice no one else, therefore practicing in a way that fits your daily needs body and mind is vital. Not every pose is for everyone. We can practice yoga but we have to be realistic about our body restrictions and limitations and possibly our unrealistic goals.

Whether you resonate with a flow class in a hot studio or a non-heated one, whether you prefer a robust practice or a gentle one, in the end, it is still a practice. Whether you show up for the physical benefit, or the mental and emotional, ultimately, we are all still practicing yoga to be well and feel healthy. My hope is to always help my students find their truths, their edge, and their appreciation for their bodies.

Rachel xoxo

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