Yoga Goddess, Yoga Klutz

This is what my week has felt like.

My moods have been up and down this week — and so has my yoga practice.

On New Years Eve, my practice felt glorious. I was one with my movements of body and breath. Afterward, the teacher even came up to me and said my practice was stunning. Stunning! She said that in a sea of people (the class was packed to capacity), I was clearly in my body, and really feeling the practice. It was a WONDERFUL compliment.

A few days later, I took another class with the same teacher, and I felt like a complete klutz. My belly fat was spilling over the waist band of my fancy new Lululemon yoga pants, my shirt kept falling forward into my face, and my body felt achy and sore. Where on New Years Eve I’d felt open and light, now I felt awkward and blocked. No matter how much I breathed, and even in some of my favorite poses, I just couldn’t get into it. I felt like a new driver, behind the wheel of a clunky old car.

So much for stunning.

Now, I realize that’s harsh. I realize that going to yoga class isn’t just about feeling beautiful and light. I show up on the mat because that is the place where I experience myself most deeply. Without Twitter, or traffic, or any distracting thoughts, I can just be me for 60 or 90 minutes, working out the kinks, creating lightness where there was weight, openness where things were stuck. The physical, emotional and spiritual are intertwined, and moving my body and breath gets all of me moving, until I emerge from class, feeling far more alive than I was when I arrived.

Even in a “bad” class, I leave feeling better than I did when I got there. But still, it upsets me when I feel so awkward on the mat, because I firmly believe that what we experience on the mat is a mirror for our everyday lives (or, as yoga teacher Cyndi Lee puts it, our yoga is a template for our lives). For example: if you’re flexible on the mat, bending and stretching easily into poses like forward fold or pigeon, but struggle with poses that require strength — chair pose, for example — then chances are, the same is true in your everyday life: you’re flexible (willing to go with the flow, perhaps, or intellectually open minded), but you struggle with strength (maybe you don’t stand up for yourself, or avoid facing challenges).

I can get carried away with this kind of analysis, in a way that’s not very helpful. “Oh god, I couldn’t do any of those balancing poses today, my life must be so off balance!” (Balancing poses are, in fact, very difficult for me, and this does cause me some angst.) The challenge, I think, is to be open to the insights yoga provides, but to hold them inside you lightly, as observations, rather than judgments.

One of my goals in 2011 is to develop a consistent yoga practice, which for me means going to class at a studio three times a week. (I may also practice at home, but since I find studio classes most powerful, they’re my primary focus.) As I immerse myself more deeply in yoga, I plan to reflect on what I’m learning at least once a week here on this blog. My goals are two-fold: first, I’d love to open up the power, wonder and complexity of yoga to those who are interested, but not yet yogis themselves; and second, I’d love to build a community with fellow yogis.  If you fall into either cateogry, I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog’s RSS feed, or sign up for updates via email.

If you don’t currently practice yoga – what interests you about it? And if you’re already a yogi, I wonder, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on the mat that’s been useful in your everyday life? (Big question, I realize… but we might as well go big as we get to know each other :)).

11 thoughts on “Yoga Goddess, Yoga Klutz

  1. Great post! I get caught up in this kind of analysis as well, but I am learning to accept where I am in the moment better than I have in the past. I am the person who is more flexible than strong, and sometimes I feel like I could do yoga 24/7 and I'm still going to struggle with building strength (and I have my entire life). Some days I am so in the moment, so concentrated, that I flow through class with little problem, and other days, I struggle with balance, or feel I'll crumble if the posture is held a minute longer. My biggest lesson has been to accept the variability of where I am at any moment, and to work within it and to be kind to myself. It's a nice life lesson as well, I think.


  2. Love this post Amanda. I'm trying to get into yoga by doing it only 5 minutes a day. I have failed in the classes I've tried in the past, leaving frustrated and feeling like I should have gone for a good run to burn off frustration instead. I'm interested though because it's so hard for me to shut down the constant "to-do" list running through my brain. If it's that hard for me to do it, I probably need to do it more often and it will hopefully do me some good.


  3. Kate – "My biggest lesson has been to accept the variability of where I am at any moment" – this is wise. Accepting that there will be variability, so we aren't surprised every time we feel awkward or unbalanced. The element of surprise is in some ways the hardest part! "I felt great yesterday, why don't I feel great today!"… "because that's not how human beings work." (Right??)Kristin, I love the power of starting small. You build up your confidence that way, plus you're finding a creative way to build the practice into your life in a way that works for you. Without knowing more about your history w/ yoga… I wonder, did you ever take a true beginner class, that really gave you a thorough orientation to the core poses and breathing techniques? The first time I tried yoga, I basically tried to ape what other people in class were doing and it sucked. It did NOT get me out of my head! But then I took a "newbie" class and learned the basics – what yoga is really about, basic yoga breath, and how to do sun salutations and some other core poses. After that, I felt so much more confident and able to "lose" (find) myself in the flow, since I didn't have to work so hard to make sure I was "doing it right." I don't know if that resonates for you at all, but I thought I'd throw it out there just in case.


  4. Ditto for me, Amanda. One of my goals this year is to also be more consistent with my yoga practice and to go deeper into it. Gonna start teacher training with Cyndi tonight as part of all that. Excited and anxious at the same time!


  5. Tree: Glad to have you on board!Cindy: CONGRATS! Teacher training — so exciting. I did that restorative teacher training last year and it was wonderful, and I'm really at a crossroads in terms of deciding what's next… I'm a little intimidated to try to get hired with only a 1-week certification under my belt, but I need to find a way to practice what I've learned. Maybe we could use each other as practice students as your class progresses!


  6. I can't wait to see what you write! I've been reading a bit on starting a home practice, and I believe it was John Schumacher at Unity Woods in Woodley Park who said that even standing in tadasana for a minute when you wake up in the morning counts. Sometimes when I'm waiting in line somewhere I'll stand in tadasana, or clasp my hands and pull them down to practice salabhasana arms for a nice little heart opener. As far as what you said about going from goddess to klutz, I hear you. Balancing poses are very difficult for me, too, and sometimes it pisses me off when I can't even get into a proper tree before falling over. Some days, I feel like I can't stay upright in any posture, and I want to spend my whole practice on the floor. Part of yoga, as I'm sure you know, is learning to practice without being attached to the fruits of your labor. "Isvara pranidhana". It has really helped me learn to forgive myself when I'm having an off day, and to practice to the best of my ability, in the moment.


  7. Lisa, I'm so excited to have you be part of this discussion! I really value your perspective. I know you're right… for me, it's a matter of going from wanting to let go of that attachment, to actually letting go. There's a lot of distance between that particular point A and point B!It's funny, with other poses, I'm very gentle with myself — sometimes I can do crow, for example, and sometimes not, and that doesn't bother me. But for some reason these balancing poses are more charged for me. I think it may be that I have higher expectations of myself when it comes to balance than strength…Anyway, thanks for stopping by & for offering your perspective!


  8. Hm, many reactions, so please bear with me! What interests me about yoga – the discipline. And the few times I've taken it, I do come out feeling calmer. The biggest lesson/coping mechanism I learned was to listen to myself, and to breathe. As in, when I'm stressed out, I just try to breathe in and out. It's helped me face down big demons, crazy bosses, annoying children, bad traffic….too bad it's not useful in my eternal quest to learn to swim. Can't really breathe under water when I start to get towards the deep end… 😛 Confession – I've also learned that I get massively bored with yoga. And that that is okay. We are not all meant to be patient people. I am capable of discipline in my own non-yogic way. And that is also to be respected.


  9. ss with the same teacher, and I felt like a complete klutz. My belly fat was spilling over the waist band of my fancy new Lu-<a href="">latest YSL Boots</a>lulemon yoga pants, my shirt kept falling forward into my face, and my body felt achy and sore. Where on New Years Eve I'd felt open and light, now I felt awkward and blocked. No matter how much I breathed, and even in some of my favorite poses, I just couldn't get into it. I felt like a new driver, behind the wheel of a clunky old car.So much for stunning.


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