“Namaste” is an ancient Sanskrit greeting still used in everyday India. Roughly translated it means “I bow to the god within you” or “The spirit within me salutes the spirit in you.” It is also usually done at the end of every yoga class by the teacher to the students with the Namaste gesture which is the pressing of the palms together in front of the heart chakra, closing the eyes and bowing the head.
I remember going out with an ex-boyfriend of mine who had never heard of “Namaste” before when a waiter used it as a greeting. In shock and horror, I asked him if he had ever gone to a yoga class and it was clear that he had not. How had he lived in Cape Town his whole life without experiencing one of the most popular and trendy Cape Townian forms of exercise (that and hiking up Lion’s Head). I mean that’s probably the reason we broke up.
At that stage, I was still a yoga dabbler. Which meant that I liked the idea of yoga or really the image of yoga and all the cool yoga posing pictures on Instagram. I would do a class sporadically every few months to make myself feel cool. But I had never really committed or learnt anything through yoga.
For the last 7 months I have been doing yoga at a class at least once or twice every single week. Inspired in part by a commitment to improve myself and in part by meeting some-one who was a big yoga fan. It’s been a challenge. I don’t look like the long and lean yogis and therefore I have a lot more to lift up and balance in all the poses. Years of doing only cardio (swimming, running or hiking) has left my shoulders and legs particularly tight with limited flexibility. I struggle with hand binds, leg stretches, back bends or shoulder stands. Most of the time I am usually the worst person in the class and I can’t do any of the fancier positions.
But instead of being intimidated by my lack of ability I have just kept at it. There is something completely liberating to embracing being bad at something, the willingness to learn and approaching the practice with humility because you know it can only get better. Fortunately, I also have a good sense of humour so that I can laugh at myself and not take the whole thing too seriously. But the thing is, I am slowly, week by week, getting better and it is locking me in to keep doing yoga.
What I love about yoga is the that it works on your strength and flexibility using your body’s own weight. I like the emphasis on controlled breathing when you work through the poses (as a person who has exercised-induced-asthma the breathe work is very important to me). Yoga is also an accessible form of exercise because you only really need a yoga mat (if that) with minimal space and you can find a yoga class all over the world. My physiotherapist even suggested that I do a quick sun salutation yoga routine everyday to help with my neck and back problems. I’m still working on getting that level of discipline right but it’s baby steps for me.
I don’t adopt the yoga philosophy, with the chakras and the namasteing and all that. But after pushing and sweating through my last yoga class, I felt a rush of endorphins and a sense of bliss when I was shavasaning (or lying down like a dead corpse) at the end of the class. That’s what you want to feel after doing any form of exercise. I also like the idea that you come to each yoga session with a set intention for the session. I do that in my sport all the time but it’s usually to do with a time or distance that I want to achieve. For yoga it’s a bit more airy-fairy like “strength”, “peace”, “letting go” or sometimes I meditate on a particular thing or person. But I find that in yoga, like my swimming, I am able to focus on being completely present in the yoga class. The thoughts of my to-do list or the day’s stresses drift away as I concentrate on the pose and my breath.
I plan to keep going to yoga regularly. I am going to try to do it more twice a week than once a week but I don’t want to be too hard on myself. I would rather celebrate the fact that I continue to do it and improve slowly. It’s so important to try new things, sometimes you love them or hate them (like me and golf which was a hate) but you should never stop challenging yourself.
How to kick start your yoga (or any exercise for that matter):
- Chose a close location. Find a yoga studio that you like that is close to where you live/work to make it easier to go.
- Find a great teacher. Find a yoga instructor that you like. I have found one or two that I really connect with and it has motivated me to seek out their classes and keep on coming back. I think it’s important to switch it up with different teachers but part of my improvement has been working with the same teacher.
- Buy the right equipment. I have bought a yoga mat and anti-gripping yoga towel so that I am ready for class and don’t have to rent ones each time. It shows a level of commitment to the exercise. Also some fancy yoga pants are great.
- Commit to going once a week. That’s it. Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting overly ambitious goals. Be kind to yourself in your goal setting. And if you stick to that and improve then maybe you can increase your attendance.