First things first: I am not a skinny, size 4 (or even size 6) woman trying to get your attention. My BMI has been in the “overweight” category (mid to high 20s) for years now. Thankfully, the 21st century yoga space is becoming more visually diverse with people of all shapes and sizes enjoying it now. This matches what the practice strives to be, ever since it started centuries ago in India: an accepting and welcoming environment to all soul-seeking individuals.
I was first drawn to yoga in college and went to a few classes with my roommates at the time. But after we graduated and parted ways, it took me 10 years to develop a regular practice. The usual culprits gnawed at me: I’m too busy, I’m not good enough, I can’t bend like that, it’s too slow, what if other people look at me weird. Well, guess what? All those things are still true. The difference is that I finally stopped it from stopping me to pick up the practice. And here’s three things I learned along the way that helped me stick with yoga.
- Do not compare yourself to others. Easier said than done, I know, like anything in life. But really. Someone will always be more bendy than you. With the lights down low, no one can really see you anyway. And if they came to the space to judge, then they’re in the wrong place and will eventually be found out as the real outsider. You might be the last one to move out of a pose, but it’s not as embarrassing as it sounds–you can enjoy the extra couple seconds you got there (your body may have needed it anyway) and pick right back up with everyone in the next pose. Plus, yoga takes such intense concentration that you won’t have time or energy to look around for longer than a quick glance, just to see what “pigeon pose” means (one of my faves).
- You are a yogi simply by showing up on your mat. I know this sounds soo mushy gushy, but I love it. When a yoga teacher calls us all “yogis”, I feel like it silently binds us all together in community in the purest and simplest of moments. Naming what you are helps you become what you are. Calling yourself a yogi gives yourself permission to stick with the practice. Being a “yogi” doesn’t mean bending your body into a pretzel or mastering a Vinyasa Flow 3 class and doing headstands right away. You could be a yogi your whole life and never want to get to that level. Being a yogi lets you do you in a room full of others doing the exact same thing.
- Pain means back off. Any yoga instructor will tell you this over and over throughout a class. There should be a “comfortable tension” in each pose, with the overall goal of both stretching and strengthening your beautiful muscles. You should get familiar with what “comfortable tension” means for you, knowing that it will constantly change the more (or less) you practice.
Other pro tips? Find what style works for you. I love Vinyasa because it keeps my mind engaged with a faster pace. I also love Yin, not only because it sneakily loosens up my joints, but it also makes me confront my Type A-ness and (try to) let it go gracefully.
So, if yoga is on your list to try this year, do it. Give yourself permission to be adventurous and messy with it. When you find the right studio, or YouTube channel, that fits you, you’ll know it. Your mind, body, and heart will all feel in sync. Even if it’s fleeting, the feeling will be profound and noticeable. Appreciate how the eloquent, ancient Sanskrit words wash over you, knowing that you’re tapping into a powerful, global practice that transforms lives in the smallest of ways every day.
P.S. My go-to YouTube channel right now for yoga is Erin Wimert – she is down-to-earth, uploads new videos each week, and offers different lengths of classes from 20 minutes to over 1 hour. (I don’t get any kickbacks at all from this, just meeting one of my own goals this year to actively support small businesses!)