Accepting Beginner Status

Intimidated at first by her lack of experience in yoga class, a young woman learns to relish the learning process.
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Intimidated at first by her lack of experience in yoga class, a young woman learns to relish the learning process.
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by Kristen Williams

As a returning yoga student, my first time back in a studio was rather intimidating to say the least. Surrounded by thin, strong, and seemingly glowing women, I felt like there was no way I would be able to keep up with the class. As the instructor began calling out Sanskrit pose names, something I hadn’t heard in at least two years, I realized this was going to be more than just a physical challenge. My mind demanded time to shuffle through its dusty files and recall which word matched which pose. Of course this slow process was as evident to the teacher as it was to my stiff body. As the rest of the class glided through Sun Salutations, I was the teacher’s prime focus. It was almost as if I was receiving a private session, that’s how many adjustments she had for me.

At first I felt guilty taking up so much of the class time with my own corrections. I was constantly looking around to make sure no one was annoyed or bored by the pauses they kept having to take for my sake. Fortunately every time I glanced in anyone’s direction, their drishti (gaze) was exactly where it was supposed to be: at their thumb, at their toes. No one’s eyes met mine the entire class period. When Savasana ended, I thanked the instructor and even apologized for taking up the majority of her attention. Her response was a gentle laugh, “Everyone’s new at first.” This simple expression was the reassurance and encouragement I needed to go back to class the following week.

Accepting myself as a beginner was the first and most crucial step in my yoga practice. It took humility and patience to go easy on my body, to push myself to the limit that felt right rather than trying to keep up with my neighbor. As I continued to return to the studio, I learned to embrace each correction with a thankful heart and determined mind. Instead of shying away from the instructor and hoping she wouldn’t notice my mistakes, I found myself yearning for improvement. Instead of glancing around the room at others, I centered my gaze, and focused on myself. Since this change in attitude, practicing yoga has become a source of joy and a model for other patterns in my life.

Oftentimes I find it hard to accept the place I am in, the level I am at, and myself just as I already am. For example, struggling with weight-loss has been a battle for me. Desperate to see that hopeful number on the scale, I forget to find contentment in my journey toward it. The fact that I am striving for a healthier lifestyle should be enough of a reminder to accept the number I see and more importantly, accept myself as I am. Setting goals is admirable, but living in a state of disappointment before I reach them is an unfortunate yet frequent occurrence. Through my experience of starting yoga over again, I’ve learned that my mindset is what matters most. Finding a balance between pushing and acceptance is vital to a healthy yoga practice and, as I’ve learned, to just about every area of my life. What I now use to encourage myself and others is the lesson that whether you’re getting back into yoga or just starting it, I think that the most important step is the very first one: Accepting yourself. Don’t try to push too hard, or keep up with anyone else. Don’t be afraid of correction, and most importantly, don’t give up.

Yogajournal.com intern Kristen Williams is finishing her senior year at San Francisco State University.