Updated: Jul 2, 2021
I'm researching yoga at the moment, reading books, watching videos and thinking about it a lot. I do practice, but not as often as I would like - there is always an excuse (aka a valid reason!) as to why I am not on the mat more. I know in my head, my heart and my body the benefits, and yoga became an important part of my daily routine in lockdown. It makes me feel so much better in every way: my joints ache less, my shoulders pull back into place and I generally feel calmer, fitter and stronger. And there is a magic that happens when I move - it loosens my mind, and I can think more clearly. Ideas flow and thoughts crystallise. I have had many 'a-ha!' moments on my living room floor whilst attempting a Downward Dog.
My first ever yoga class was held in our local sports centre about 20 years ago, when yoga was considered mystical and full of stereotypical hippie-types. Being brought up as a Christian, my mother had warned me against anything 'New Age’ and considered the notion of 'emptying your mind' a dangerous thing. However, I was a curious, head strong twenty-something and wanted to give it a try.
I was well versed in fitness classes of all sorts - boxercise, where the trainer worked us so hard, I was nearly sick in each session; classic aerobics following a leotard-clad pensioner bound around like Bambi whilst I was more like a haphazard baby giraffe bumping into everyone; and circuit training, where I would be unable to move, sit, stand, or do anything for the following week until the next bout of torture! All good fun!
So, I thought yoga would be a cinch - I mean, how hard can lying on the floor really be?
I cannot remember any of the poses we held in that first class; at the time it was all just movement to me - a slower version of an aerobics class. But the thing that surprised me, and has stayed with me all these years, was the experience of breathing. Usually, I would be panting, gasping or catching my breath in a workout. Yoga was very different. We did a lot of alternate nostril breathing, which was tricky to get the hang of and also seemed rather odd. But as the class continued, I could literally feel the oxygen move around my body with each breath. I had never experienced anything like it before - it was the most incredible sensation – I could feel life coursing through my veins.
I would love to tell you that yoga became a way of life and transformed me through the years, but the sad fact is, there were no other classes locally for me to attend. At the time yoga, particularly in the Welsh valleys, was only available via the bookshelves of the library or the musty smelling health food shop. I had to wait until the advent of YouTube and online yoga tutorials to start an at home practice.
And even now, when I can walk into my living room at any time of the day and switch on Yoga with Adriene and 'find what feels good', there are too many 'valid reasons' to keep my mat rolled up in the corner of the room. 'I'm too tired, it's too cold, I've got an early meeting, it's packed lunch day or it's Thursday. I'll start fresh next week'. I promise myself to begin again on Monday and by Wednesday I'm pulling the duvet closer as I roll over and stay in bed that bit longer.
Another classic excuse is 'I'm not good enough'. This comes in half-truths such as not being as flexible, fresh faced or 'together' as the many yogis seen online and on the tiles of Instagram. I do not have Sweaty Betty yoga pants, a beautiful cork mat, green smoothie to hand, beach backdrop or cedar-clad purpose-built studio in the woods to inspire a daily routine. (I admit, these filtered images have coloured my approach to yoga in the past few years!) The reality of my practice is me stumbling, eyes half open, wearing my saggy pyjamas, with bed-head hair onto my crumpled mat in the living room whilst my son jumps on my back during Cat-Cow! The whole thing lasts about 18 minutes at best.
But isn't this what it's all about - life with no filter. We've become an overly critical and curated society, where we only show the best versions of ourselves for fear of rejection. We are hard wired for belonging and connection, to fit in and be seen is part of a deeply ingrained survival mechanism. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but social media likes and follows have become so important that the photographs of our lives and the virtual stories we share are constantly edited to fit a perceived 'norm' or popular identity.
We experienced a diluted version of this before the age of smartphones when we would wear the same clothes/hairstyle/make up/band t-shirt as our friends, to be part of the gang, club, tribe - but now it's on a whole other level. We digitally edit our lives for the world to see, we filter out the undesirable and aim for perfection in every shot. If our body/hair/face/size/style/yoga practice doesn't match up or look as perfect as the next person, we feel we're not good enough. In my case I stall, I put off getting on the mat and keep postponing much needed movement until next week.
I read a post yesterday by @movementformodernlife founded by the brilliant Kat Farrants, which spoke to the heart of the matter. It gave me all the encouragement I needed and was so truthful of my own experience of yoga of the past few years – even the holey pjs! It was a wakeup call, in the kindest possible way.
"That 10 minutes on the mat after the kids are asleep; your bleary-eyed 6am roll around in your holey pjs; that little breathing exercise on your coffee break at work...For all the people whose practice isn't shiny or bendy or photographed with a filter - we see you; we love you; we are you."
So, with this in mind, my yoga practice is a bit of a crumpled mess, it’s scrappy and inconsistent. But it is real and reflects the reality of my life. As a result, it is authentic and needs no editing. This is something that I can be proud of and it certainly feels good to view my practice in this way. We do not have to wait for all the ‘i’s’ to be dotted or ‘t’s’ to be crossed to start. Something is better than nothing.
How about you? What do you put off, edit or hide until you feel it is perfect? What practices or hobbies or parts of you could you accept as they are and own them for all they're inconsistencies and imperfections? I'd love to know in the comments below, or via my Instagram @iamsarahalexcarter
Photo via Unsplash