If I had a dollar for every person who told me they can’t do yoga for this reason or that reason, I would be rich. The thing about yoga is that it truly is for everyone. And as my months in yoga teacher training wind down, I believe this more than ever.
For the past six months, I have lived, breathed and sweated yoga. Every day on my mat. Every other weekend in class. I made new friends, read new books and practiced more downward dog than I thought possible. Along the way, I gained a new appreciation for the practice. Despite doing it all my life — my mother was a teacher — there are things I never knew. Throughout my training, I learned many “secrets.” Here are eight of them:
1.) If you want a better forward fold, tighten your quads
For every muscle you want to lengthen, there is another muscle that needs to tighten. So if you want to reach your toes in seated forward fold, tighten up those quads! It’s something I learned way too late, but it has made me “that” yoga girl. And I am happy about it.
2.) You never nail a pose
Take side crow. This is a complicated arm balance I worked on for quite some time before finally being able to hold it for a few breaths. “Now straighten your legs,” my teacher told me this morning. What? Straight legs? It seems every time I hit a pose I’ve been working on, there is always deeper to go, a transition to master or some alignment cue that changes everything. It’s called a practice for a reason.
3.) Advanced asana is as much about courage as it is about strength
Despite a lifetime of practice, I only started inverting and arm balancing when I decided to become a yoga teacher. I figured it was time. What I quickly learned was that years of running and lifting and practicing yoga had given me the core and upper arm strength I needed. But courage? That was another thing altogether. In arm balances, you have to tip forward and trust you won’t face-plant. With inversions, you have to fight your natural instinct to slowly and steadily get your feet above your head. It’s scary as hell.
4.) The clothes you wear do matter
No, you don’t need to show up to class in $100 pants. But you are going to have a much better practice if you wear clothing that hugs your body because you can see the lines and the teacher can check your alignment and because your shirt won’t bunch up around your head when you invert. You will be a lot happier if you invest in good yoga clothing.
5.) Love your mat
Everyone has a different kind of mat. I have no way of knowing the thickness or length or stickiness anyone else will prefer. But I do know that practicing on the same mat each time makes for a happier practice. I have been using my Manduka PROlite. It is the perfect weight and the perfect level of stickiness to support each practice. That is a variable I can count on, which is something every yogi really needs.
6.) Listen to alignment cues, but know your body
For years it drove me crazy when my yoga teacher insisted that I straighten my legs in down dog. But I had never told him that my body simply wasn’t ready. I just got annoyed and then skipped class because I didn’t want to hear it. Now I know better. The fact is every body is a little different. Although teachers do know the importance of good alignment, they are not in your body and can’t always tell why you are modifying a pose. If you need to modify, do it. If it makes you feel better, talk to the teacher, but don’t feel that you must do exactly as everyone else does. No two bodies are exactly alike, and in the end, yoga is more about listening to your own body than anything else.
7.) No skipping savasana
More than any of my other secrets, this one is key. We practiced a few times in yoga teacher training without the final resting pose, and it just didn’t feel complete. No matter how long you practice, get that savasana in! A good rule of thumb is that savasana should be about 10 percent of the total class. So a 60-minute class needs a six-minute savasana. Don’t skimp, and don’t leave early.
8.) Skip water
I know it goes against what trainers tell you, but I have found my practice to be much richer and more advanced when I don’t drink water during class. I drink plenty before and after to make up for it, but in class, I like to keep my stomach jostling to a minimum.