One of the loveliest things I have discovered in the past 18 months is yoga. Now, if you’re not a ‘yoga person’, don’t roll your eyes – hear me out. I spent a large portion of my life thinking I wasn’t either. As a kid and teenager, I played a LOT of team sports, and during the last two years of my medical training, I had to scale down the team sport commitments and joined my college campus gym. I started out my gym years as the typical ‘cardio bunny’ – I loved outdoor running (still do), and all I really used the gym for was the cross-trainer (also called ‘the elliptical) and the treadmill. Weights? I wasn’t sure what they were until my intern year, and I’m really glad I moved my training at that stage towards more weights, less cardio. There’s nothing wrong with cardio, or any form of exercise really, once you enjoy it, but as with all things health-related, too much of a good thing isn’t, well, good either. At the age of 28, I’ve been lifting weights for 3 and a half years now, and I still love it. But yoga? That’s the most recent discovery, and probably the most beneficial for my body and mind. I’ll tell you why, and hopefully convince you to give it a go too – because I’ve heard a LOT of people give various reasons for not wanting to give yoga a go – ‘oh, yoga isn’t for me, I’m not good at it, it doesn’t suit my body, I’m not flexible enough, it’s too slow’ – and of course, everyone is entitled to do what works for them. But if I, a person whose mind runs at 100 miles an hour, can slow down enough to connect with and benefit from yoga, anyone can, and I’m really keen to share that positive experience with you.
I can very clearly remember my first yoga class – at my first Wellfest (a big wellness festival in Dublin for those unaware), at the end of the second day of the festival. It was rainy, wet and cold (we had a scorcher of a first day, it is Ireland after all!), and I had done quite a few ‘cardio’-style sweaty workouts over the weekend, probably too many. I thought – ‘sure I’ll give this a go and have a bit of a stretch’ – and went to the last class of the day, yoga. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really connect with the class, the environment or the teacher, and although I finished the class, I definitely felt out of place, unsure of myself, and if I’m honest, a little bit bored and bemused by it all. Anyone reading this who can remember their first yoga class may resonate with those feelings!
I’m going to use my yoga experience to bust some yoga myths for you guys in this article – although I’m not a yoga teacher, because I share my yoga journey online (and my past of working out too much without enough rest) I get asked quite a bit about how I got started, Youtube channels I use/d to practice at home, and classes in Dublin I like to go to. And with those questions come statements like ‘I’m so afraid I’ll stand out in the class as a total beginner’, ‘I tried a class before but the teacher didn’t help me at all’, ‘I want to try yoga at home but don’t know which videos to try’, and my favourite ‘Will everyone be doing headstands?!’ (No, is the answer to that last one!). These statements to me highlights myths that lead to people being afraid to give yoga a go. As someone recently a beginner, all those fears are fresh in my mind, so I thought, given it’s also a recent Podcast topic, it would be a good time to bring these thoughts to an article for you!
Myth #1: Yoga is about being flexible and involves just a lot of stretching.
I 100% believed this to be true before I gave yoga a second go. It’s 100% false. Yes, in yoga classes there are poses where you will stretch certain muscles but that’s not the point of the class. And it is DEFINITELY not about being flexible – trust me, I can’t even tumble! Bringing yourself to the mat, whether in a class or at home, is for a purpose entirely unrelated to stretching. I started out trying yoga again as I was injured and couldn’t do my usual runs and weight lifting sessions for my lower body, so it was a ‘focus on what you can do’ type of motivation – but over time, the benefits I’ve noticed in my body have been surpassed by those I’ve noticed in my headspace. Yoga connects you to your breath – those inhales and exhales that we don’t notice most of the time. It slows your mind down, allows you to tune inward, and check in with YOU. I don’t do yoga to improve my flexibility, although my mobility and flexibility have improved from the practice – I do it because it brings me a little inner sense of calm, even when my external surroundings are anything but! So to bust this myth – yes, some poses in yoga are more static and ‘stretchy’, but others are more dynamic and ‘flow-y’, and over time, the combination of the two starts to feel like a little dance, in the loveliest way possible.
Myth #2: Yoga classes are full of people doing headstands and cartwheels.
This myth won’t take long to bust. I’ve been to a LOT of yoga classes in Dublin over the last 18 months, and I’ve done a LOT of yoga flow videos on Youtube (my article on my favourite channels to use is here). So trust me when I say that honestly, 99% of the yoga classes out there are not full of people doing insane acrobatic feats – far from it. Yes, in some classes the teacher will give options to anyone who wants to take a pose that bit further and make it more challenging, but they will also give options for those who want to stay where they are, or take it a little easier. Usually, the most experience person is the teacher, and they are there to help, teach and ensure a safe class, not judge anyone’s body or experience. Suffice it to say that 99.999% people are just showing up to enjoy a yoga class, not show off their gymnastic skills!
Myth #3: Yoga is ‘too slow’.
The type of yoga classes you choose to book into very much dictate what sort of practice you will get. Classes are usually given a description of what type of yoga it is (I’m no expert here, but for example I’ve tried the styles of Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Yin – Vinyasa is my favourite – there are many others!), and will also generally say what sort of level the class is suitable for (i.e. beginner, intermediate, advanced yogis). So whether you’re a beginner or experienced, the pace of the class is up to you depending on what you pick, and even within the class itself, it’s still up to you how slow or quick you move. I used to think the entire practice of yoga was ‘too slow’ or I guess ‘not a hard workout’ – I had such a close-minded thought process about it, and I’m really glad I changed that. Trust me, when you get into a yoga flow in a class and have to hold certain postures to build strength, you’ll think it’s anything but slow! That said, it’s not a ‘fast’ movement practice – I like to think of it as somewhere in between, for the style of yoga I like to do anyway.
Myth #4: You have to ‘be good at yoga’ to do yoga.
This is absolutely untrue – there’s no such thing as being ‘good at yoga.’ Like everything in life, there will always be people who have more or less experience in a given thing than us, and that’s true of yoga as well. We all have to start somewhere to start building our own experience! I do remember being both nervous and excited for my first class last year at Hot Pod Yoga Dublin (my favourite place to flow) as it was my second time actually giving yoga a proper go since that first Wellfest class and having those ‘What if everyone else is amazing and super flexible and I look silly?’ thoughts – two minutes into the class, I relaxed and realised all my little fears were unnecessary. 18 months later and I don’t at all consider myself ‘good’ at yoga. I feel very comfortable now booking into a class with a teacher I know, whether I’m alone or going with friend, and when I move to Galway this year I know I’ll be really excited to try new studios and find a favourite out West. But there are still poses I haven’t heard of, others I continue to work on getting into, and more still that I can’t yet do (the arm balance poses especially!). We are always learning in life, and that’s true for yoga too. The loveliest thing about being a total beginner is that you can try so many different styles of practice and classes, and find your own favourite! That process should be fun, so don’t fear ‘not being good at it’ – as I said, it’s not possible!
Myth #5: The yoga teacher doesn’t matter, its the student who has to get it right.
The yoga teacher of classes you attend is KEY to your overall experience. I mentioned I’m excited to try new studios and meet new teachers in Galway, and that’s true – but in Dublin, I know my favourite teachers and studios and I generally stick to classes taught by them. This is also true of my home practice using Youtube – my favourite channel is the one run by yoga teacher Cat Meffan, and 9 times out of 10 I’ll choose to do one of her classes. So if you tried a class, and just didn’t enjoy or connect with it, don’t be disheartened. Liking and getting on with the teacher is just so so important as part of your overall class experience. I’m now friendly with a particular few of my favourite yoga teachers in Dublin – we’ve met up over coffee and gotten to know each other, and that whole community aspect of yoga is one of the best things I’ve taken from my yogi journey. Remember – if the class you tried (or Youtube video) didn’t work for it, think about the teacher. Were they helpful, friendly, welcoming, warm? Did they help people in the class with poses if needed, give advice for progressions and regressions of poses? Did they make the experience more positive and fun for you? Those questions are what I ask myself after a class with a new teacher, and if it’s a yes, wonderful, but if not, I’m unlikely to book back in! My bottom line here is – don’t blame yourself for classes not enjoyed. Yes, maybe after a few trials yoga isn’t for you, but I do think it is something EVERYONE, and every body, can try, and the teacher is central to that experience.
And that’s a wrap gang! I hope you found this useful – let me know if you’re a yoga fan (or if not!), and where your favourite place to flow is! Leave a comment, drop me an email, or give me a shout @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook!
Ciara 🙂 x