Are You Making This Rookie Yoga Mistake?
I see it all the time: a yoga class full of people of various ages with different bodies, levels of experience and goals all doing the same movements at the same pace.
“What’s wrong with that?” You may be wondering.
A lot, actually.
You may be confused and thinking to yourself, “isn’t that the goal in a yoga class? To move and breath together?”
Many Yogis believe that a “good” student does what the teacher says to do. A “good” yogi inhales when they’re told to inhale and exhales when they’re told to exhale. They definitely don’t do their own thing in class because that would be rude, right?
Thinking Differently About Poses
First of all, there’s no such thing as a “bad Yogi”! There are beginner Yogis and more experienced Yogis, but neither one is better or worse than the other.
One big different between a beginner and a more experienced practitioner is this:
Seasoned Yogis give themselves permission to customize their practice.
It makes perfect sense that new students feel unsure and have the desire to do the poses “right.” Wisely, they want to avoid injury and maximize the benefits of the postures.
What they don’t yet understand, however, is that what makes a pose “right” for you is more than likely very different from what makes it “right” for me. The only way for you to discover what is right for you is to listen to your body above all else.
“Listening to your body” may sound hippy-dippy, but it’s actually very practical. It means that you pay attention to sensations in your body. Simple as that!
You’re the only one who has lived inside your body. Therefore, you’re the only one who could possibly know what’s best for you. No matter how well intentioned or experienced an instructor may be, they cannot know what’s best for you.
Instead of allowing any insight from a teacher to be law in your mind, use it to support your own inquiry. If something a teacher suggests feels good, go with it!
On the other hand, if a cue from the teacher doesn’t inherently feel right in your body, you absolutely have the right to choose something else!
Your Breath, Your Pace!
Secondly, you have a unique breath pace and ratio between your inhales and your exhales. There’s no way that a group of 30 very different humans could all be breathing in sync if they are choosing the ideal pace for their body on any given day.
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve taken yoga classes where the whole room syncs up with the instructor’s cues and the rhythm of the music, and it definitely feels amazing to groove together. The synchronicity elicits a level of connection that fills the room with palpable positive energy, and I’m a fan of that for sure!
What I’m not a fan of is a student feeling the need to compromise their breath connection in order to stay with the group.
Not only does this pressure to conform limit their ability to tap into the power of their full breath capacity, it often leads new yogis to criticize themselves.
“Why can’t I keep up?” the new yogi wonders. “I must be doing something wrong.”
If you’ve ever doubted yourself in this way, let me remind you: there’s nothing wrong with moving to the beat of your own drum in a group asana class. The teacher sets a pace, typically at a “middle of the road” rhythm, and you can move more quickly or more slowly based on the timing of your inhales and exhales.
Let Your Goal Be Your Guide
Finally, we all come to the mat with different goals. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, you should choose the postures, breathing technique, and pace that will move you closer to your goal.
If our goals are different, our practice should also be different.
Are you looking to build more strength? Give yourself plenty of time to hold poses for multiple rounds of breath to challenge your muscles.
Are you hoping to relax your mind and create a more peaceful inner world? Focus on a breath ration where your exhales exceed your inhales by one or two seconds.
In order to know how to approach your practice to align with your goal, you first must get very clear on what that goal is! Then, explore which postures, styles of breath, and conditions create that desired effect.
The mistake that I see most new yoga students make is following directions from their teacher too closely.
The job of a yoga teacher is not to “fix” what you are doing “wrong.” The guidance of a well-trained instructor can provide insight and support as you discover what works best for you, however, it’s up to you to decide when to go your own way in honor of your goal for practice.
The beauty of this practice is that we have a variety of tools, all with different intended results. The more we practice, the better adept we are at picking up the tool that will meet our needs in the best way possible!
It takes courage to go against the grain, to trust your intuition and resist going along with the crowd. I assure you: if you are willing to be brave, you will experience a connection to yourself that you couldn’t otherwise attain.
Give it a try, Yogi, and then let me know how it goes!