Written By : Marta Gintowt
I have an unpopular confession to make: I have always disliked yoga. Spending the last few years lying to myself, dreading attending classes, and trying to convince myself that I do indeed like it has been exhausting. For me, yoga has always been a practice that I have aspired to enjoy. In theory, it has everything I could ever want: a stimulating exercise which challenges both the mind and body. After a long day of sitting in an office chair in front of a computer, a yoga class should be a moment that I look forward to in order to stretch tense muscles and release accumulated stressors. Many of my friends love, practice, and swear by yoga, so it's safe to say that I jumped on the bandwagon quite late, and when I did I felt defeated and disappointed.
I consider myself to be an active person, preferring running, swimming, or hiking outdoors when possible and utilizing my gym membership for easier convenience. Exercising outdoors has always made me feel free by getting the most out of my workout routine. After years of saying I would try yoga (mind you, with not even so much of an attempt before), I took the opportunity to enroll in an after-hours course provided by the company I worked for, as it was a great initiative to dip my toes in the waters of yoga. If I didn’t start now, would I ever?
The first class was interesting, as I remember not knowing what to expect from myself physically while expecting to execute the general, familiar poses that we see when we think of the discipline. Not only did I not enjoy it, I felt the internal pressure to be perfect--I am fit, I should be able to do this! ‘Have I always been not flexible?’, ‘...my body doesn’t do that...’, and ‘no, I absolutely cannot stand on my head,’ are just a few examples of my internal dialogue when I should have been surrendering to the present. During Savasana, I was unable to let go, internally judging myself and analyzing my ‘performance’ all while conscious of a room full of coworkers around me. This continued every Wednesday for about four months, give or take, as I didn't quit the classes but I also didn't make any progress. My thought process was stagnant and the fundamentals of yoga were lost on me. In the end, it appeared that yoga was not something I enjoyed. Or was it?
My journey now takes us to the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. In March of last year I relocated to, in my opinion, the most beautiful and rugged landscapes in all of coastal Spain. Every weekend before the pandemic I looked forward to hiking the trails in the surrounding mountains, spending the majority of the day outdoors under the warm, late winter sun. Things changed suddenly and within the span of a few days, Spain was experiencing one of the most stringent lockdowns in Europe, where leaving the house was only possible to go to the grocery store (one person per household) or elsewhere with the proper official permission. In a time where I would usually be taking advantage of the surrounding mountain paths or swims in the sea, I was stationed safely inside with the views of possibilities in the distance. We were, and still are, in the era of the home workout, the personal motivation, and the indoor challenge of not only staying active but to keep a calm mind. As my partner established his routine made up of a very disagreeable daily HIIT workout, I tried to find what worked for myself. Like many of us, trying to stay active with spatial restrictions presented itself as an unfamiliar challenge.
After shopping through various workout apps and Youtube videos, I kept being subconsciously drawn back to something that I already wrote off and decided was not for me. I already had a mat, a free half-hour, and the wherewithal to press play, so I figured I had nothing to lose in giving yoga another shot.
To gently summarize my yoga experience the second time around, from an unenthusiastic first day to a dedicated present day, yoga has transformed both my mind and body. My evolution was slow but steady and required commitment and patience. Comfortably pushing myself without expectation, my view of yoga changed, and I started to understand why many people make it a lifestyle. Presence of mind for the present moment isn’t easily achieved, especially when confronted with a challenge. Devoting a certain amount of time to a different video every day became something I looked forward to, embracing the sweet equilibrium of test and triumph. In a time where anxieties are high, yoga helped tame the disquiet. When all of our plans went amok and I felt overwhelmed, I took to my mat in the morning and saw my priorities a bit more clearly. Other advantages of my new fondness for yoga came in the forms of being more physically fit than I have been in years and finally accepting and coming to peace with my body.
Perhaps the first time around I was not willing to let myself go to the magical powers of pushing yourself to the limit in a small space using solely your own body and drive to create life-changing energy. I discovered that group classes were not for me, and perhaps will never be. In order for me to be less judgemental about myself, I need to be in a forgiving headspace, applicable to both during a yoga session and outside. Additionally, I went from being disoriented straight-up confused when listening to pose transitions from the instructor to knowing the poses in their Sanskrit names and effortlessly completing a ‘flow’. I have learned that consistency, in this case, is not key and to be kinder to myself during off days where my motivation is lacking. Above all, using internal language that is encouraging rather than criticizing, especially during a time where humanity is struggling on a global scale, was one of the most important lessons that I have taken from yoga. My pace, both in life and in yoga, is strictly mine, along with my progress. There is a saying which goes along the lines of ‘comparison is the theft of joy’, which always resonated with me, except now, yoga has been able to put that mantra into practice. By no means am I a Yogi or do I consider myself advanced in the practice (I still can’t do a headstand), but those are not my objectives. Maybe in the past I would strive to be the best, but currently I aim for what I can accomplish in the present. So while I gazed at the Sierras in the distance, who were longing to be trekked, I rolled out my mat on the balcony and continued on the humble path of my own personal journey.