You know how some people just rub you the wrong way, even if they’ve done nothing to warrant it? Maybe it’s the guy who works at the coffee shop you frequent every morning, the one who always says hello but looks as though he’s just smelled something bad. Maybe it’s your coworker whose friendly attempts at small talk grate before you’ve had a chance to drink the coffee you just bought from the dour barista. They haven’t done anything to offend you; there’s just something about them.
There’s a girl in my yoga class who, until recently, was like that for me. She’s never said a word to me, nor I to her, but I was just not a fan. Most of the reason is that she commits one of my biggest pet peeves–getting up and leaving during savasana (or sometimes she does other, more energetic poses in place of this all-important final resting pose)–but the fact that she always seems determined to try to stretch herself into the fullest extent of the pose, form be damned, didn’t help either. Take your cues from your body, not from Instagram, girl.
So I’m in class, in savasana, while she’s doing pigeon pose or whatever, and suddenly I realise: if she’s beng a “bad yogi” by ignoring the niyama of isvara pranidhana, surrender, then I’m being a bad yogi by letting her actions dictate my feelings in opposition to the niyama of santosha, contentment. Whatever she is doing is not half as detrimental to my own well-being as what my own thoughts and prejudices are doing to me.
About a year and a half ago I ran my first half-marathon. Then I all but stopped running. It’s not that I don’t enjoy running, because I obviously do or I wouldn’t have run a half to begin with, but first I was taking a break after all that training; then the weather was too hot; then too cold; then we were living in a van. Next thing I knew it was a year and a half later and I hadn’t run in ages. When I moved to Wellington I decided to sign up for the Round the Bays half, convinced Steve to do the same, and started running again. I learned a lot from the Vancouver Half-Marathon, my first-ever race, but I still picked up a few new insights this time around.
The first thing I learned is that in some ways, it is like that old adage about riding a bicycle. Obviously you’re not going to jump back into running after not training for ages and immediately be able to run that whole 13.1mi/21.1km, but running a race requires mental training as well as physical. Before training for my first half-marathon I had never run 13.1 miles before. The longest run I could find in my Runkeeper records was 10 miles, way back in 2012. Usually I topped out around 5 or 6.
Training for my second half-marathon was different because I knew I could finish it. I had a good suspicion that I could back in Vancouver, but for this one I already knew because I had done it before. Getting over that mental hurdle (running pun, ha ha) made it much easier to jump into training and push myself toward that 13.1 mile goal.
While the first thing I learned came at the very start of my training for Round the Bays, the second arrived at the very end, as I crossed the finish line. I ran my first half-marathon in 2:08:12. That time around, I didn’t have a goal time because I had no benchmark for how fast I was and I just wanted to finish. This race, my goal was to finish in two hours or less. And… I didn’t. According to the official race results, my final time was 2:00:42. Just 42 seconds longer than my goal: close, but not quite there.
I’m a perfectionist, and I hate not meeting my own expectations. There are a lot of excuses that can be made– a serious head wind for most of the course, a rumour that the track is just a bit longer than a half-marathon (and the GPS on my phone would seem to back that up)–but at the end of the day, I just didn’t quite get there. Usually I’m pretty hard on myself when I “fail” at something, so I expected to feel disappointed that I didn’t achieve my goal.
Instead I felt proud and excited. I cut seven-and-a-half minutes off my previous time, with half as much training as I did for the last race. I also felt energized–after my last half-marathon I felt like there was no way I could see myself running a full marathon in the future. Now? It seems like a definite possibility (with a good bit more training first, of course). I’m happy to celebrate my victories instead of dwelling on my “failure,” and now I have a goal to work toward in my next half.
My main goal is to not stop running for over a year like I did after the Vancouver half. I’m enjoying a week off from running this week to rest and recharge, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it next week and breaking that sub-2 hour barrier in my next race for sure! And maybe then I’ll be ready to turn 13.1 into 26.2! Or not, but I’ll be glad to succeed or fail at whatever comes next.
One of the most important things I’ve learned since starting a regular yoga practice about a year and a half ago is the power of small movements. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of or desire for the most intense and difficult postures—sinking a millimetre deeper in pigeon pose or your heels a nearly imperceptible amount closer to the floor in downward dog just don’t bring the same adrenaline rush that dropping back into wheel pose or managing your first headstand. Social media does not always help either. The “simple” poses just aren’t as sexy as inversions, backbends, and splits. But they’re equally important, and it’s equally important to notice and acknowledge our progress, however small, in whatever we do, and to recognise that there are different types of progress which are all worthwhile.
Many people have discussed the negative effects of social media on yoga, and I definitely agree with many of those critiques. I am beyond tired of Instagram yogis preaching truthfulness and honesty then making undisclosed sponsorship posts an hour later. But I love social media’s other impacts on yoga—finding inspiration from more advanced practitioners, participating in “yoga challenges,” and learning tips from teachers around the world. Still, I think one thing that’s sometimes lost, not only on the internet but also in my and probably many folks’ personal practice is the way small progress can enrich your routine. There’s a reason, after all, that yoga is called a “practice.”
In every aspect of life, I am a big fan of setting small, achievable milestone goals on the way to a larger goal. Yoga-wise, one of my New Years resolutions for 2017 was to get my splits; I didn’t achieve that, not even close. I’m not disappointed, but I realise that what I should have done is set smaller goals to work on, from one to another. From X to Y degrees (with Y obviously not being near 180 yet), for example. Reaching these small goals would be a good way to motivate myself to stay on track.
I’ve been doing yoga regularly for about a year now, and as someone who is still relatively new to the practice I often look at Instagram for inspiration and motivation. For example, I’m currently doing a 14-day “yoga challenge on IG that led to me trying a headstand yesterday for the first time!
While it’s amazing and inspiring to see the backbends and inversions these ladies (because, despite yoga having been a practice that was closed to women for a very long time, these days on the internet and in most yoga classes, the practitioners are a majority female) do, it only takes a few minutes of scrolling before you can’t help but notice that the most popular posters are thin, white, female, and decked out in the latest leggings from Lululemon or Alo.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, and being a fairly thin, definitely white woman who is currently waiting on Fedex to deliver a Lululemon order, it’s not that I can’t relate to these graceful women even if I don’t have a body that could be confused for a model’s. But it doesn’t reflect the yoga enthusiasts I’ve encountered in real life. In the yoga classes I attend, none of us have six-pack abs. Many students are beyond their early-to-mid 20s (my mom has started attending yoga classes recently, for example). Some are black, some are asian, some are men, some are children. Some practice chair yoga or have limitations due to disabilities or sorenesses.
That’s why reading Jessamyn Stanley’s book Every Body Yoga was such a breath of fresh air. Part yoga guide and part memoir, she describes her own journey to body acceptance and how we can balance our desire to emulate the cool asanas we see on social media with a practice that is kind to and loving toward our own bodies. What I love about the book is that she doesn’t say “Practice in your most tattered gym shorts and don’t even look at Instagram or you’re not a real yogi.” She totally acknowledges that buying brightly-patterned leggings and taking photos of yourself in your best dancer pose can be fun and even helpful. It’s just that you don’t have to do that, and you don’t have to look a certain way, and that your practice is yours to grow and embrace.
If you like to look at athletes or yoga practitioners on Instagram, then Jessamyn (@mynameisjessamyn) is a must-follow.
When I was a kid, I found a yoga VHS in the house and gave it a few goes before I got bored of holding a single pose for five minutes. I’m fidgety now—I can only imagine it felt like an eternity of stillness back then. When I was a teenager, I had a set of “yoga cards,” cardboard squares with yoga poses and mantras that were, I suppose, designed to guide your practice. I carried them through several moves, always intending to use them and never quite getting around to it. When I was in college, I took a yoga class. It was at 8 or 9pm on a Sunday, which wasn’t the optimal time for a college student to feel motivated to do anything but lie in bed and watch reruns of The Office. I tried a few more times here and there, but always ended up writing off yoga as one just not for me.
That changed earlier this summer. When I couldn’t find an ATS bellydance class to pick up learning where I’d left off in Seattle, I signed up for the closest I could find to where I live (I’ve since found an ATS class so I’m happy to be taking that as well). This ended up being a fusion class with a strong yoga focus, so at first I was wary. Then, it began to click.
I still didn’t enjoy doing yoga for its own sake (yet), but I began to understand how the focus on flexibility, opening up joints, and strengthening muscles could translate into more powerful bellydancing. Every time I struggled into a slight backbend, I was making my body wave chewier and more dynamic. Every time I dropped from plank to the floor and into cobra (and, as time went on from plank to chaturanga to upward-facing dog), I was strengthening my core for better isolations.
I decided I needed to do yoga more than the once a week in class to really feel the difference, so I asked some friends for recommendations of youtube videos, and that’s when I found Yoga With Adriene. I jumped nearly straight into her “30 Days of Yoga” series, and that’s when things really began to fall in place. Aspects of yoga that had always disinterested me finally began to seem fun and important as I modulated my breathing and let the day slip away. Eight days into the series (as I noted in my bullet journal), I felt savasana. The “corpse pose” had always been a sticking point for me in that college yoga class—why would I lie on the cold gym floor when I could go home and lie in bed? I finally began to appreciate the way it tied together a practice to transition peacefully back into your day.
Not only did I begin to enjoy doing the poses, I began to notice improvements. Today I finished the 30 Days series with a deeper forward fold, lower heels in downward dog, and, again, a smoother vinyasa from plank to chaturanga to upward-facing dog. My attitude toward yoga has changed too. I’ve stopped checking the clock and started checking on my breath, started focusing on my body instead of every external distraction I could find. My yoga journey is just beginning, but it’s one I feel inspired and confident to continue for months, years, and perhaps even a lifetime. Namaste.