Embracing life’s imperfections through yoga

In honour of International Yoga Day, I want to talk about what this philosophy means to me and how it helped me let go of inner judgment. 

I was first introduced to yoga at 15 years old after having suffered from stress, anxiety and panic attacks for most of my life. One day my psychologist suggested I try a yoga class – she went on and on about how it would help me centre myself and control my very rapid, unstable breathing pattern. 

Without knowing or expecting anything from it, I decided to give it a try. I wish this were one of those stories where people say “my life changed from the very first class” or “I found my sense of purpose and connected to myself like never before”, but for me it was the complete opposite. I absolutely hated it – I couldn’t do any of the poses, I felt suffocated, the dimmed lights made me anxious, and my racing thoughts distracted me from the class every two seconds. 

I kept trying to make it work, to make my mind go blank and have my breath match my movement. I discovered Yoga With Adriene and did a few classes at home too, but no luck. I stopped doing yoga for a few years and began again during the pandemic (we all needed some inner peace after all) and I promised myself I would try to be more compassionate this time around. Five years older and in an ongoing lockdown, I had the best yoga practice of my life. 

That’s when I realised what had gone wrong all this time. I had been trying so hard to sync my body and mind to the class that I’d forgotten what yoga is all about – letting go. I finally learned to go easy on myself and show up in my truest form, with my racing thoughts, my inflexible limbs, and my old yoga mat. And so I found the true essence of yoga. 

See feelingly 

An interesting fact is that yoga was initially meant for meditation and religious use, not as a form of workout. The poses followed as a way to connect to one’s body, but it was never (nor should it ever be) the main focus. Somewhere along the yogic timeline, which began about 5,000 years ago, we started glorifying the physical aspect and left the meditative element to the side. We’ve become visual beings, so our eyes pay closer attention to the bendy poses we see on Instagram without considering the deeper meaning. 

I used to hate not being able to achieve most yoga poses, and I often stretched my body a bit too much to make it happen. As if that would measure whether I was a true yogi or not. Now I know that the most important part is to “see feelingly”, as William Shakespeare once said and Adriene loves to quote. This means paying attention to the feeling of each pose instead of trying to nail how they look. The visual aspect will come with time. 

I still can’t touch my toes in a forward fold without bending my knees, and my heels don’t reach the ground in downward facing dog. And I’m okay with that. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to become more advanced in my physical practice, but it’s no longer my main focus when I do yoga. It’s refreshing to free ourselves from judgment and just let our bodies and minds respond to the movement. It’s like whispering “I trust you” to yourself. 

So next time you’re thinking of doing yoga, just show up and do it. Not for the aesthetic poses or for the cute outfits and settings. Do it for yourself, for your physical and mental health, for the person you are and the person you want to become. All racing thoughts, crooked poses, and anxious breaths are welcome. 

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