As a dedicated yogi and yoga teacher, I’m often asked how I can relate to students new to yoga. Do I really understand their unease? Am I trustworthy? Am I experienced enough?
I can understand that skepticism. I have clients come in from all walks of life – college students, retirees, trust funders and scholarships, injured, sick, marathon runners and couch graduates. And here I am, a short, skinny 23 year old who looks like she’d be more at home at a sorority formal than a yoga studio. What gives me the authority to tell people about what’s happening in their bodies? How can I understand what it’s like to have a serious health problem, an injury, or to need to lose a ton of weight? Who am I, and most importantly, can I relate?
Far from my days as a beginner, I’ve been practicing yoga seriously now for about five years. Three years ago, I started teaching yoga, aided in large part by my mom, who is a yoga, barre and pilates instructor and studio owner. I eat, sleep, and breathe yoga now, but it wasn’t always like that.
I remember the first time I ever went to yoga. I was 15. My mom dragged me to this class with a bunch of older women at a really gross local gym that has long since gone out of business. We had to use the mats they had there because we didn’t have our own and they were old and ripping. I was probably about 30 pounds overweight at the time, I really wasn’t an athlete under any definition, and I really did not want to be there.
I walked into that room thinking I was going to rock it. Instead, I spent most of the class in child’s pose beating myself up about how I couldn’t do anything. I felt awkward, out-of-shape, and exposed. I actually left during the class to go cry in the locker room because I was so upset.
For those first two or three years I was inconsistent in my practice. I didn’t get it or particularly enjoy it, but my mom kept bringing me back into it. It wasn’t until the end of high school, when my mom opened her studio, that I started to enjoy yoga. I got my own mat and started coming more regularly. I went to my first big yoga workshop with Seane Corn. I helped my mom train to teach yoga and eventually went myself, and in the process, as my attitude towards yoga started to shift so did I. Without even noticing it happen, I lost that stubborn fat around my belly and thighs. I became stronger and more flexible and able to get through an entire class without dropping into child’s pose.
I can always tell when my students feel like I felt on my mat that first day. I have a lot of clients who come in and get frustrated because they aren’t getting it their third, fourth, or fifth time in. They are always amazed when I tell them it took me three or four years to start understanding my own yoga practice and to even hold high plank without collapsing in a pile, and that there are still challenges I face on my mat everyday. They want to be able to hold a yoga headstand pose in the middle of the room after ten classes and I have to tell them that it might be a month, or 6 months, or even a year before they’ll be strong enough. They want the immediate payoff. They want the six-pack-abs for summer right away.
Change is hard. Really hard. I was the chubby girl in the back of the class – now I’m teaching four to seven classes a week. I tell my students all the time that time keeps ticking past, and it’s theirs to do with what they will. Yes, that first step (and sometimes the second and the third!) is hard and punishing and really scary. But if you work really hard and stick with it right now, you’ll be like me, looking back on that first yoga class eight years ago, and smiling back at the person you were then.