The first time I walked into a yoga class, I walked straight back out. I was at Rhodes University in South Africa and I thought I’d accidentally stumbled into a gymnastics class. People were so flexible that I couldn’t actually make out where arms began and legs ended. I ran for my life. The same thing happened when I was 5 years old and I slipped on a pink leotard and matching tu-tu. I shyly stepped into the ballet class and within minutes was in tears. I want to be able to do ballet, I want to be able to do the splits mid-air and do headstands without the support of a wall, but until recently I hadn’t found anyone who could motivate me enough to make me really achieve this.
Enter Vlada: an incredible yoga teacher from Ukraine who just happens to be teaching here in Shenzhen. I went along to my first class with her with the same expectations that I always have when I try a new yoga class for the first time. That I’ll be the least flexible in the class and end up going home with more tension than when I first started. That all the other girls will judge me and raise their eyebrows when I have to use a strap to reach my feet because my legs are so flipping long and my arm strength is the equivalent to zero. However, something was different in this class. That initial intimidation and insecurity immediately evaporated and in its place drifted a sprinkling of confidence, determination and utter calm. These girls I am practicing with and learning so much from, are not people I need to fear or compare myself to. They are embarking on their own journey of self-discovery and they are people I can connect with, share energy with and in the studio we practice in, you can feel that. It’s real. When we slide the glass door shut, and sit on our mats, our egos fly out the window and float down to rest on the tree tops. When class is over, I try not to pick it back up on the way out but sometimes it finds me and I carry it home again. But mostly, when class is over, I glide home. I never really thought about it before but the reason I am probably lacking flexibility is because I hold so much tension in my mind, and thus in my body too. This is the first time in my life that I really feel like I’m letting it all go. Not just the tension, but the insecurities too. I might not be able to do ‘crow pose’ or the splits, but I can now quieten my mind and little by little, day by day, I can feel my body getting stronger, and my mind too.
Maybe this is why I’m writing again. Yoga is my new inspiration, my ‘muse’ if you will. To inspire= to breathe in. I am breathing in new, fresh air, both literally and metaphorically and wonderful things are happening. I have never enjoyed exercise so much in my life. I feel even more compassionate than normal. I am more patient. I am sleeping better. I feel taller (that’s a lot of tall!). As opposed to normal exercise which seems to only focus on the body, with a couple of happy hormones thrown in for good measure, yoga is as much about the mind as it is the body. And for a repetitive newbie like myself (I’ve actually been practicing on and off for 3 years, but never as consistently as I am now) finding the perfect teacher, studio and people to practice with is essential. Something about practicing in a studio halfway up the mountain, with birds and trees for company, in a city of millions, just makes it even better. It is truly a little sanctuary of zen and I am beyond excited for every class.
That’s the way it should be, isn’t it? A daily habit that isn’t something you dread, or something you just do to keep in shape. It should be as easy as waking up and welcoming the new day. And yet at the same time, something that constantly challenges you and pushes you out of your comfort zone, whether it be trying something you didn’t even know you were capable of, or crying during savasana (corpse pose). The first time this happened to me a couple of weeks ago, I was shocked. I am an emotional person and I cry often, but I hadn’t expected these sneaky little tears to slip from my eyes during such a relaxing end to a beautiful class. But slip out they did, and I let them. Clearly, my body and mind had something to release and so there was nothing else for me to do but to allow it. This class had been focusing on restorative poses and so as the class neared the end I could feel tension slipping away, and layers of stress being pulled back. Underneath was just raw emotion and it poked its head out in the form of tears. I was so curious as to why this was happening. I wasn’t feeling particularly sad or tired, and yet my body knows best. I think of it now as a form of cleansing, a purging of old emotions and tension that were lying low in my heart and now it is time to let them all go flying out to melt into the tree tops with my ego, my insecurities, my anxiety and my stress.
Now, I am learning to embrace it all. The tears, the way my shoulders sometimes feel like they might pop out of place if I stretch a little further, the way the blood flows to my head when I’m upside down and I feel like I’ve just kissed my favourite person while simultaneously eating the best salted-caramel chocolate cupcake of my life (yoga rocks!), the way I feel like I have met these girls and this teacher at the most perfect time, the way the energy in our studio is poignantly positive- flowing from one person to the next, denying nobody. And our teacher’s voice. She is so gentle. Some teachers make the class all about them. They want to show-off and get a big ego-boost. Vlada is at the other end of the spectrum completely. She cares. She is passionate about yoga, not just as a form of exercise, but as a lifestyle and the most exciting part is that she inspires all of us to start believing in this too. I learn so much in every class, not just about yoga poses and meditation and disconnecting from technology to focus more on nature again, but also about myself. I am learning my strengths, my weaknesses, my flaws. And I am learning that yoga is not just a bunch of fancy poses done by beautiful people wearing expensive yoga pants who stick out their chests and with their eyes say “look at me, look at ME!”. Yoga is none of that. Yoga is about connecting back to yourself, to the roots of the earth, to each other, to the positive energy that flows throughout your veins. It is a discipline that can unite you with your higher self, with the ‘real you’, with all the people in this world.
To put it simply, I am addicted. And I would say that along with my travel addiction and my matcha tea addiction, I am onto something good here. Thank you Vlada for inspiring me, and thank you to everyone who joins our practice. I feel rejuvenated.
Here’s to our yoga journey!
p.s. You can check out Vlada’s blog here: www.shenzhenyoga.com