I truly found yoga about 10-and-a-half years ago during my college years—before this I might have experienced a sun salutation thrown into a dance warm up here and there, but nothing sincere.
I was lucky to have met yoga in such a non-intimidating way—a two-credit undergraduate course that met three mornings a week with a beautiful teacher who was in her fifties and looked nothing like what we typically see on the covers of yoga magazines and Instagram.
She was sweet, welcoming and enthusiastic. With this class I knew I had found something that would change my life, but I never expected how profound the impact would be.
That was back in good ‘ol Virginia.
Nowadays, I live, teach yoga and practice as a psychotherapist in New York City. There are a plethora of yoga studios in this city, almost as many as Starbucks.
(Okay, maybe not quite that many, but there are a whole lot!)
When I join in on the conversations of my students, friends, colleagues and people I meet out and about in the city, I learn that so many people either never attempt their first yoga class or try it once and never return out of intimidation—flat out fear and thoughts of inadequacy, usually about their own bodies.
I can relate.
When I left a professional dance career in an effort to recover from an eating disorder and focus less on my physical body, I was really mostly interested in yoga for the meditation and philosophical components of the practice.
However, once I experienced my first vinyasa flow class, I realized that yoga could feel a lot like dancing, but that I could let go of my critical mind and instead turn toward myself with acceptance and tolerance—the same virtues that I so easily offered to others but struggled to show myself.
Yoga has helped me to see my own beauty and embrace my individuality and imperfections.
I have returned to my mat daily over the past 10 years because it is my therapy. It’s a space where I get to go deeper inside myself, lose myself in breath and movement and find some peace.
I’ve found that a lot of people relate to my story and hold a level of distrust with their bodies, as I used to with my own.
So, if my story hits home (and kudos to you for acknowledging this), you are not alone.
If you are being called toward a yoga practice but can’t take those first steps to commit, here is what I want you to know:
To practice yoga:
1. We don’t have to be flexible.
2. We don’t have to already be “in shape” (your yoga practice, like your life, will be a journey—a beautiful work in progress to be honored not shamed). And your ideas about what or who is “in shape” will likely change.
3. We don’t have to look like what we see on Instagram or on the cover of popular yoga magazines.
4. We don’t have to come with any prior knowledge of anything other than directions to the studio—you learn as your practice organically develops.
In developing a yoga practice:
1. We learn how to trust and accept our bodies and minds for what they are in the moment, at each moment. We are then better able to tolerate and find peace with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. And of course, they pass.
2. We become more flexible and stronger physically, and the effect that this has on our mental state is miraculous.
3. We become more mindful in our routine actions and learn about our own tendencies, which alongside a practice of acceptance, evokes a state of inner peace we never thought possible.
4. We feel younger and healthier overall and through this we are able to be stronger and more loving to ourselves and others in our lives.
If you want to get started on this yoga path, I urge you to let go of the struggle and let what is meant to happen gracefully occur.
You can tolerate the fear, anxiety or whatever it is that is holding you back—you are stronger than you think.
There’s no day like today to begin.
Author: Nityda Gessel
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Travis May
Photo: Anne Wu/Flickr