Becoming a Yogi

Becoming a Yogi: Learning how to be a Part of the Yoga scene
With each move
And each Breath
The body gets stronger
And so does the mind.

     Becoming a part of the yoga seen has not been an easy thing for me to do, but BOY am I glad I did it! For me joining a yoga class was the second group activity that I had ever gone in that involved physical activity in my life. Yoga was an activity that I had heard about for years and I thought it would be something I would enjoy. My friend Tasha did yoga regularly at home; and one Christmas I too got a yoga dvd and mat. When I turned on the dvd for the first time I quickly realized that I could not follow along with anything that was going on in the video. My fears were true-the video was too visual for me to understand. It didn’t help that this particular video was an intermediate level! Luckily, at the time I had a very involved boyfriend who took the time to explain  and show me each move in the warm up section of the video (it wasn’t as bad for him as it sounds; he got to check out my body while helping me). I then tried to memorize the warm up in my head so that I could follow it by myself but soon enough I forgot the moves. I have not touched the dvd since. This experience lowered my confidence to join a public yoga class because I thought it would be nearly impossible for me to follow along with the class. However; I seriously began to think about taking yoga again a couple of years later after I listened to a podcast by a woman who is a blind counsellor in the United States and who has a website called eyes2eyes.com. In her podcasts she spent time talking about how much yoga had helped her. She said that she would never live her life without yoga again because of the immense benefits that she got from its practice. Thus, shortly after hearing her story I got up the courage and made the decision to find a yoga studio and to contact the yoga instructor to ask about joining a class.  Since then, I’ve been going to yoga classes for 2 and half years and have done yoga in three cities and had four different instructors

     All of my experiences with yoga have been different but all have been rewarding and great learning experiences. Starting out with my first yoga instructor was the most nerve racking for me. I didn’t have a base of experience with yoga to have enough confidence to be able to convince or show my instructor that I could function in a normal yoga class. Lisa was my first instructor and although she was very sweet; she told me that she wouldn’t feel comfortable putting me in her regular yoga class. She thought that the classes that she taught would be too fast paced for me. When she first told me this I was really disappointed. When she told me she would like to give me private lessons, my immediate thought was “I will never be able to afford private yoga”, but when I asked her how much private yoga would be she said that she would give me lessons for the same price as joining a regular class. This meant that I would be paying $10 an hour for private yoga. I thought that sounded great considering most private yoga classes were listed at $110 or more an hour! I was so thankful that Lisa would do this for me, but in a way I still wished she would have welcomed me in to her regular class. The way that Lisa saw it was that she could learn a lot from getting experience teaching yoga to someone who is not sighted. I think that she was absolutely right and I do believe that my yoga instructors all have become better teachers as a result of working with me. The way that I see it is that teaching yoga to someone who can’t see must be a lot more rewarding than teaching it to someone who can see. It’s tough to teach such a visual activity to someone who cannot see-so I have a lot of admiration for the teachers I have worked with and think that other yoga instructors should look up to them. I think that teaching me yoga has challenged my instructors to be more verbal, to use touch and physical demonstrations and assists more often. More importantly though; inclusion promotes diversity of abilities within the class which is exactly what yoga is intended to do. I’ve learned that yoga is not meant to be a competition; there is no winning and no one needs to be perfect in a yoga class. Yoga is meant to challenge each individual    themselves. It is about finding the inner strength to become stronger and work harder. It’s about recognizing your body’s aches and pains, accepting them and being at peace with your body, mind and soul.

     I have learned so much from doing yoga. Working with Lisa I learned about body awareness (and realized how bad my sense of body awareness really was). I struggled to recognize where basic parts of the body were like words like palms, collar bone, triceps, navel, sternum, etc. These terms are used often in yoga to describe how to move your body into positions. I still get them confused and find myself asking”whats that”? Lisa was the first one who had ever noticed my lack of body awareness development and was the  first one who really tried to teach me how to become more aware of my body so that I could benefit more from the movements in yoga. She often wanted me to feel her body in certain positions so that I could try and mimic them myself. I found doing this awkward because it is not something that I regularly have done, but I also know that it is my way of seeing. She taught me about the importance of having a straight spine in certain positions and taught me the proper way of putting my hands on my heart in yoga. At first Lisa introduced me to a lot of floor poses-poses that involve a lot of physical contact with the floor-because she had read that blind people feel safer when they are on the floor. This was in fact right for me-and during the time I did yoga with her I was getting over some anxiety that I had acquired after fainting suddenly while being waited on in a shopping mall. My body wasn’t feeling strong and these floor poses were a great way for me to start. Lisa learned to use some metaphorical terms to help me. For example, good posture is something that a lot of people don’t have a lot of the time but this can especially be true for individuals who can’t see well. In order to get me to stand or sit up completely straight the way that is done in yoga, Lisa would tell me to imagine that a string was connected to the ceiling and was pulling my body up straight. She also used a lot of references to opening up my heart, or lifting up my heart, depending on what the pose required. She pointed out that she thought it was difficult for me to open my heart; and she was right in every respect.  Her intuition and ability to read body language and decipher tension was amazing to me. Lisa could tell when one breathing exercise relaxed me more than another breathing exercise and would point it out to me. The personal attention that I got from private lessons was very helpful but also had its limitations. Lisa had a second job and worked at nights and I worked during the days. This meant that it was really hard for us to make appointments to meet with each other-most times we were only meeting every 1 to 3 weeks. Doing yoga that infrequently can mean that it is difficult to gain all the benefits of yoga. Doing them privately all of the time also was a bit isolating. Lisa never offered to let me take one of her regular classes-my guess is that she didn’t feel confident teaching me in a group- so a few months into doing yoga with her I took it upon myself to find another instructor in the city who was confident working with me in a group setting. I did continue to see Lisa privately when possible up until I moved and I give what I learned from her in yoga credit for helping me to believe in myself enough to continue on with my yoga practice. I have found three instructors since then-who have in fact immediately welcome me with open arms in to their classes. Not only does my involvement with yoga allow me to become a better yogi, it allows me to regain   confidence time and time again in the face of adversity. It’s allowed me to be more flexible, strong, brave and calm. It’s put more purpose to my life and I believe its pushed me to try more of my interests like running and rowing. It makes me feel good to know that I can be a part of such a great practice. Being successful in a class like yoga is powerful because it motivates me to keep going, encourages me to not give up and lets me know that I am not alone.

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