The first Yoga class

We all get to our first Yoga for various reasons; it might be physical, emotional or spiritual, for me it was the first. What is common is that we have no idea of what to expect.

In the physical its common for people to say “I’m looking to build flexibility, strenght, loose weight, do some excercise or achieve a posture”. In regard of the emotional, people look to reduce stress or “learn how to manage it”, creat a calm space to get to know yourself better. And as for the spiritual, people seek the movement meditation, connect to yourself or God (or any supreme being we belive in).

There’s no such thing as a good or a bad reason, there’s not a superior one. What matters is that we want to try. The good news is that we’ll always get all the benefits. In my experience, those who come looking “just to get more flexible”, also leave relaxed. And those who are there for the meditative benefits, get stronger and more flexible.

We expect so much from our first class, specially when we have no idea of what Yoga is. Sometimes we have so many expectation, that is a bit overwhelming, and we end up not showing at all, because we are afraid of “not being able to do it”. But remember, all you need to bring is an open mind.

The first yoga class is a complex experience. You don’t really get what’s going on. We are no usually connected to our body enough to understand what “right foot forward” means, sometimes we are not entirely sure wich one is the right foot. Many teachers (me included) use names in Sanskrit, so it’s hard to understand the instruction. We listen around, and everyone is breathing at the same time, and sound a bit like Darth Vader. We see around and everyone is so focused. The teacher is either not looking at me, or is looking way too much, and we feel our body is simply not built to do what she’s asking me to do. All of this is normal, and it’s a matter of practice to get a hold of what’s going on. So don’t give up, and remember it’s all a process.

Take a break!

There are days when I have full on energy, I'm up for everything, and I feel like I can take on the world. Go to yoga or train isn't an effort, and I end up with the feeling that I could still keep going on... but those are not most of the days! Just opening my eyes and getting out of bed seem like work enough other days, my muscles are tired and overcharged, my mind can give me plenty of reasons why it would be a good idea to skip my training and my practice. 

I used to think that it only counted, and would give me a noticeable result if I would leave dripping sweat and dishevelled. If this were true, only people who dedicate their life to exercising, and train 6 days a week would see results, and all of us wouldn't stand a chance to make it... this worked for me on Mondays with a "start with the right foot the week", Tuesdays and maybe Thursdays. I'd leave it all, pushing my body to the limits, so I would spend the resto of the week walking like a robot and all sore. And don´t even get me started on the frustration that you couldn't see the results, and it would take me up to a year to lose a pound.   

Discipline and habits are what make a difference. Remember that it's usual that our mind wonders, drifting us away from our goal, so we must make real hard work to overcome it. Take advantage of the easy "full on energy" days, but remember that the ones that count are the hard ones. It doesn't matter if we can only give 30% of our potential or stay down in child pose the whole class, breathing. 

Start by setting an achievable goal. If you're not that active, two or three days a week are perfect, you can bring that number up in time. If you already have an exercise routine, make it five or six days a week, no excuses!

It's important to be active, it keeps our bones and muscles healthy, it's a great way of releasing stress and recharge our energy levels. Learning to have a balanced life is as much as going to the gym or Yoga studio, as it is to learn how to rest. You can do a little stretching session on your desk, meditate, take a Yin Yoga class or just rest. 

Don't spend every day without exercising. Don't push so much you don´t want to come back the next day. When you rest, your body is taking up on the benefits of the exercise, you prevent injury and your inmune system repairs your joints and muscles - thats when they start to grow and define. It takes two weeks of inactivity for you to lose progress. Overtraining charges our muscles, affects our sleep, and our inmune system can overheat. When we train with weight, your inmune system has to repair the tearing of the muscle, and if you don't give it a proper break, you start having injuries. 

"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes... including you." -Anne Lammot. 

 

What the #%/& do I eat now?

I grew up in a house where we were never forced to eat (or not) meat, but my mom never bought a pound of meat, and my dad would take us every Sunday to a meat restaurant. Out of 10 cousins, 4 where vegetarians. 

I was never surprised when someone said they didn't eat meat, but it was not that common. Now, due to the worldwide information we have access to, I can see that now it's trendy to be vegetarian/vegan/raw vegan...

I was used to not eating much meat, I don't like to touch it, and I won't even go close to it in the supermarket. But I did enjoy a nice red piece every now and then. When I started doing yoga, and having a healthier lifestyle, people was surprised that I wasn't vegetarian, because they assumed it was a synonym. 

I'd like to clarify that in yoga texts is not written that you have to be vegetarian. Rather it's discussed non-violence, truthfulness, and other principles that you can interpret as it suits you best. 

When I started being more conscious in my yoga practice, I realized that when I ate meat I would feel heavier and tiered, the day after I wouldn't be as flexible as usual, but that didn't stop me form eating it. I knew that hormones in chicken were causing more and more issues in people, and that there are plenty of documentaries about how bad it is for you to consume them and how cruel the industries are. But I refused to watch them, because about 7 years ago I had a gastric disease that has limited and changed my eating habits, and I didn't want my "can't eat" list to grow longer. 

A few weeks ago in my Facebook Newsfeed showed up a short video about a cow that changed my perspective. Now I'm not eating meat or dairy. I eat eggs every now and then, but I try them to be organic and farmyard. I'm not even sure how to call me, I'm sure there's a word. I just know I'm trying to eat in a more conscious way. 

I could see differences since day two in my energy, my mood, and my appetite (hungrier of course). I don't think it's right or wrong to have a lifestyle that makes sense to you. The emergence of so many different styles, that's even hard to keep up with so many names suggests that people are starting to own their eating habits. It's not about doing strictly what someone tells you to do, but to find what makes sense, without generating conflict with your beliefs. I have even taken a bite of my boyfriends pizza if I feel like it (he's not really into that tho). 

I think that extremes and inflexible doctrines are harmful. Excessive consumption of anything is wrong. "Eating healthy" is hard, but there are more and more options, and it doesn't matter what people say, if it feels good, go for it!

If you're interested in finding alternative options or you've had a hard time finding them, contact me and tell me about your experience, maybe we can help each other. 

Warning: too much yoga can make you HOT

You can step into a yoga class looking for an exercise, because the doctor told you it's good for some kind of pain or to strengthen your core and fix your posture. You can be trying to improve your concentration, relief stress, have some "me time" and relax. Or you can be following a spiritual path, looking for a deeper body/mind/spirit connection. 

There's no right or wrong reason when it comes to yoga; the perfect one is the one that fits you and gets you there. You're not closer to getting enlightened if you're following a spiritual path, and you're not shallow or a "bad yogi" if you just want to nail a handstand and flatten your tummy. Take what works for you, and leave the rest. For me, it was the physical stuff that got me there. I wasn't ready to look deeper within me at that time. But hey, it got me there! 

The yogic philosophy describes three levels of human embodiment; a causal body made up of thoughts and beliefs, an astral body of emotions and desires, and a physical body composed of the material substance.

The beauty about yoga, is that no matter what your first motivation was, you'll get a taste of all the aspects it has to offer. You will get stronger and healthier from the physical practice. Your concentration and the awareness of your body will improve. You will start to notice the effects some food, people or events have on you. And, at least during Savasana, you will enjoy the benefits of being relaxed and feeling connected to something greater (and maybe divine).  

Too much yoga can make you HOT, because it will show on your healthier body, an ease and calm mind, and a softer spirit and there's no way of hiding it. But how does this work if I'm only showing up to exercise? A brief explanation is found below. 

The Ashtanga Yoga system, also found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, describes an eight-stage process to achieve a higher level of integration.

(1.) Yamas (don'ts -i.e non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing) and (2.) Niyamas (do's -i.e purification, contentment, self-discipline) where a set of actions you should and shouldn't do are described. This is a moral training to try to dominate both conscious and unconscious elements of the mind, so one does not become a selfish, antisocial individual.

Then we have the (3.) Asanas (physical postures) and (4.) Pranayama (regulation of the breath). This two practices help us achieve a regulation of vital energy, blood circulation, and nervous and muscle functions. The physical postures help us get in shape, the breath control is linked to the control of the operations of the heart and the autonomic nervous system. Both of which are a bodily/physical training. 

(5.) Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses; where you direct your attention to one specific point of concentration, and reduce the distraction from the senses), (6.) Dharana (concentration that is achieved holding that focus in one single point), (7.) Dhyana (meditation, where the concentration increases for longer periods of time), and (8.) Samadhi (sense of oneness, when the object of our concentration is achieved, everything is engaged and connected). This four stages are part of a spiritual training. The mind responds to the outside world information it receives from the senses, distracting it from its "true nature". This steps are designed to work towards a higher dimension, where there is no restriction from the ego or physical limitations.  

Don't worry about being a "good yogi" or "bad yogi", there's no such thing. Just show up on your mat and do your best. Even if for theoretical purposes our three bodies are explained separately, we are one. And when we start working on one, we are also opening the doors to work on the others two. 

Confessions from a teacher: I used to want to impress you

Do you ever feel you need to prove yourself to your yoga teacher? Do you correct your posture when he walks nearby or you think he's watching? It has happened to me... 

I think that a teacher is someone who has studied the practice, techniques, theory, philosophy, anatomy, methodology... but mainly someone has worked deeply on himself, who is curious about who he is, and likes to share, with love and compassion, the benefits of what he has find in the practice.

"A good teacher shows you where to look, but does not tell you what to see" - Alexandra K. Trenfor. 

I easily deposit my complete trust on my teachers, and "if they say I should do so, I'll do so". This brought me to a big shock when I asked a teacher what to do with a knee injury and his answer was I should locate if it was on the inside or outside of the knee, and then try to be aware of how it hurt, so I'd know what to do... WHAT?!?! I WANTED A RECIPE!! An exhaustive list of do's and don'ts (exercises, super foods, variations). How would I know what to do?! That was the reason I had approached him in the first place... Until (way later) I understood what he was doing; he was getting me to connect with my inner teacher; that voice within me that tells me where to go deeper and where to go slower (or shouldn't go at all). After all, he wouldn't be with me every time I had an injury. And that was his greater gift for me, telling me where to look, but not what to see. 

For me it's hard to think of myself as a teacher. Just to think that someone expects from me as much as I used to expect from my teachers is overwhelming. I DON'T KNOW IT ALL, and I'm wrong way more than I like to admit. I learn new things everyday, and forget old things everyday. I can't teach you what to feel, I don't know what's going on inside of you, but I can point where you can look for answers.  

The fact that you are on your mat is more than enough; you're not there to prove anything to anyone. I'm forever grateful for having the opportunity to keep learning every day from the best teachers I've ever had; my students. I'd like to make it clear: I'm not there to judge you, I'm there to learn.

And that's why I think of myself more as a student than a teacher. 

 

Tips towards a healthier lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is not impossible, and it doesn't require the enormous changes we usually associate with it. You can start small, so here are some tips to help you... not that you didn't know about them:

1. Get enough sleep: That's how we help our body function properly and with its healing processes. But try not to oversleep in the morning, it'll make you feel tired. 

2. Be conscious about what you eat: moderation is a good tip! Notice what you put in your mouth, read the labels, and try to do some research on every ingredient you can't pronounce or that your grandmother wouldn't know of. Try to stay away (as much as you can) from processed food, and if you can, go for the organic choice! Food is your body's fuel, so think if you would pour diesel on a gasoline motor, and expect it to run just fine. What would be the difference on eating things that are not food (or not made for human consumption), and expecting your body to work well and not to get sick?                                                                                                                                                                                   "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." -Hippocrates

3. Exercise: move! Let your body sweat, get rid of toxins, waste and other substances. Remember: if they're not getting out, they build up inside your body. Exercise helps to balance your energy, keep healthy your muscles, joints, organs, bones, and releases stress. Yoga (for me) is an excellent choice!

4. Spend time in nature: whether it's a barefoot walk on grass or getting out of the city to enjoy time surrounded by trees, animals, water, and green. Disconnect from stressors, and let nature spread it's benefits on you. The daily routine can be overwhelming if you don't find a way of getting off from time to time.  

5. Laugh: as much as you can. There are wonderful benefits we get from laughing, but if you don't quite buy them, think that at least you'll bring a smile into someone else's day.

My yoga story

No, I didn't want to try it at first!

I had always practiced sports, but I usually enjoyed very strong and intense exercises. After a few months of doing crossfit my mom was worried I would "go crazy" with it. She offered to pay for my yoga classes, but I refused to try because "that's for old ladies who can't do anything else". 

She came to me one day and said she had already paid a studio for me to try. If I tried, and didn't like it, she wouldn't bother me anymore, but if I didn't try at least once, she wouldn't pay for my crossfit anymore. I was still studying, so if I wanted to keep training I had to go. 

I stepped into my first class, Hatha. I had no idea what it was about, and of course I thought I had to master every pose the teacher led us to. It was supposed to be easy right? My mom, 50 years old, was next to me... I didn't make it through the first pose. I didn't know how to breath, so I blacked out, and spent the entire class on child's pose trying to catch up with her, but I couldn't get off the floor. 

That got me completely hooked. How was it possible that by apparently doing so little I was doing so much. Unconsciously I knew it wasn't the physical work, but I'm grateful that's what got me caught up. I would even go twice a day sometimes.