by Paul Warner
Yoga is for fit people.
Yoga is chanting.
Yoga is something trendy people do. Yoga is not for me!
All of these thoughts and more were in my head as I walked through the door of Yoga Local. Josie, the teacher could see the trepidation in my eyes and greeted me with a big smile and the words, ‘there is one reluctant yoga newbie’, which immediately made me smile and my shoulders felt less tense.
The studio felt calm, almost spiritual, it felt like a place I wanted to be. The walls, painted a cooling grey, were accented with rustic reclaimed wood, a giant abacus stood in the corner, almost like it grew there. The lighting was soft and reflective which seemed to balance perfectly with the natural daylight coming in through the huge frosted glass windows. I sat myself down on a cushioned bench, and just took the space in. I am never comfortable with introducing myself to strangers so I was happy to sit away from the standing group. Josie glanced over and gave me a reassuring smile. I breathed in, stood up and made my way to the waiting mat.
My head was racing with thoughts, but something in my gut was saying ‘you need this’.
The first lesson was all around breathing, something we all just take for granted. Just laying flat on the floor and focusing on just breathing deeply in and out slowly seemed to just make time stand still. Josie called it our autonomic system, one system we can control. For the first time probably ever, I was reminded my feet have souls. ‘Plant you feet firmly on the mat, palms face down, feel yourself ground’, Josie’s voice was stern but warm, almost like she was willing me to get it right. She has a weird ability to be talking to 8 of us in the class at the same time, but it felt like she was just talking to me.
The doubts that were floating in my head started to clear.
As I laid there, the doubts that were floating in my head when I walked in had started to clear. Josie then offered a shoulder assist. Something I thought was going to be a movement that I couldn’t do, instead, she came to each of us in turn and following the rhythm of my breath, she drew my shoulder slowly up and ‘rolled them’ down towards the ground. Wow, what a wonderful sensation. As Josie reminded us, even when we think we are relaxed, we are carrying stored energy that can be dispelled.
Some stretching of muscles followed, muscles I never knew I had, just smooth gentle movement, always in control – well my movements were a little shaky. Almost like she could sense my apprehension, the group was re-assured that this was about us as individuals, just to do what we were capable of doing, there was no pressure to be perfect day 1.
Alignment seems to be at the heart of most of the things we were doing and it is an odd thing to think about. If someone asks you to lie down, you do just that. But your body goes into its memory position, the one it has been conditioned to over many years. Who knew, when I lay down my feet automatically point outwards, I have never noticed until this very day. This is my awareness, not at a superficial level like we seem to use every day but be actually being conscious of the position my body is in at any given time.
My big toe was the hero – who knew?
My awareness was called on again, this time in the form on intention and attention. My big toe was the target, I focussed my attention onto my big toe, another first, who thinks about their bloody toes?! Having bought my attention to my toe, I was then asked to wiggle it. There it was, attention and intention beautifully explained with my big toe as the hero – who knew?
During the next few minutes, we explored the six directions that our spines can move, something we all take for granted. As we were doing this exercise it occurred to me that I was absorbed by this thing called Yoga, I had no idea how much time has passed but this was the only thing I had been thinking about since i walked through the door.
With every exercise, I was reminded to do as much as I could do, not be worrying about the class.
Ujjayi breathing, was up next, this was a harder one to master but the principal is to be able to hear your breathing, so you are aware of what your breath is doing instead of just taking it for granted. In the weeks to come I learn to master this but initially it is not something you will be comfortable with. But if we always do the same things, we will always get the same results.
Shavasana is our final pose, laying flat, arms by my side with my palms down, just breathing. In for a count of four, out for a count of four… the world outside no longer existed, where was this place I had travelled to?? A final shoulder assist from Josie, this time as I breathed in, the smell of orange, bergamot and lavender filled my nostrils and a tingle ran down my spine. a gentle massage across my forehead and down the sides of my head just left me floating…
That calming voice once more, ’yoga is a practice of self care’ Perhaps there is something in this Yoga m’larkey after all.