I’m a competitive person by nature. I enjoy racing and the drive to do well — to actually compete — in a race helps keep me motivated to do workouts on days when I’d rather not. But it has its down-sides as well: burnout, injury, and the occasional friend’s toes being stepped on.
One of the things I love about yoga is that the act of doing it is called practice. That’s it. It’s ALWAYS practice. There is no competition at the end to prove how well or poorly you can do it. There is no comparing how well you can do it versus anyone else in the room or the world. And if your mind is well-trained, you don’t even compare yourself to yourself.
That takes practice, too.
In the beginning, I didn’t know what I was doing. Face it, no one does! I know it’s supposed to be my practice, but as a newbie, I needed to look around to see what my left arm was supposed to be trying to bind with, if only I could get my shoulders opened up enough to get it back there. Can you relate?
In looking around, I’d feel defeated. I WAS comparing myself to the seasoned yogis in the room. Even worse, I was comparing things like my relatively poor balance on my left leg to the strength in my right leg. I think this lack of confidence contributed to my struggle to embrace yoga.
It really took me awhile to get there. At first, I tried Bikram because I felt like I needed to sweat for it to be a workout. I burned out (ha!) quickly on that. Then I found an instructor at my local gym who really pushes it — long holds of lunges, planks, the dreaded chair pose — and her workouts continue to be harder than most strength workouts I have ever done with weights.
But her class is one that you just move with your breath as she talks, you move with the music. There are so many people in the class that it’s hard for her to do more than provide verbal cues for all levels. Chata-what? That’s hard for a beginner! You spend your whole time looking around, wondering what the heck you’re doing and hoping your limbs are in the right places.
Enter Bella Yogini.
Bella Yogini (aka Danae Robinett) is a San Francisco-based yoga instructor that changed my practice. My friend Jane introduced me to her early morning class at Yoga At Change and I reluctantly went the first time, dragging my ass out of bed for the 6:30 AM start.
It was a small class and we all got personalized attention. Danae turned the idea that IT’S YOUR PRACTICE into a reality. She spent a little time watching my vinyasas to see what I could do, then went to work customizing the class for me (as well as every other person in the room). She came around to each of us and helped us open our shoulders during triangle pose and pushed us deeper into downward facing dog. She taught me to tuck my pelvis during chair pose and to move immediately into chaturanga when I shoot my legs back during sun salutations. She reminded us to look at the things we could not do — like balance well on my left leg — as opportunities instead of weaknesses. She invited us to laugh as we fell out of a pose instead of berate oursevles.
She reinforced that yoga is a lifelong practice and I will never have to compete against myself or anyone else.
I still take Danae’s classes when I have the opportunity and I use what she has taught me when I go into the large, less personalized class at my regular gym. Even that instructor complimented me last week, saying she’s seen my practice come a long way. Indeed! If you are new to yoga or have been doing it for awhile and are still struggling to improve, my recommendation is to take private lessons or find an instructor who will give you personalized attention in a small class setting. Bay Area folks, you should be working with Danae!