When taking a yoga class for the first time - it's not unusual to think - 'wowsers, that was tougher than I thought it was going to be'.
Usually, that thought has got nothing to do with the type of class you've attended. whether a strong, continuously moving vinyasa flow class or a slower gentler general practice, the truth of the matter is - that if you've never done yoga before, you're going to be waking up sleepy parts of the body and saying hello to muscles that you haven't been acquainted with for some time.
Even standing in a relatively simple, yet straight and steady standing mountain pose - can be a huge challenge. Heels and feet grounded, ankles aligned central to the foot, knees softly pulling up to engage your thigh muscles, hips centred over your ankles, so the legs are fully aligned enabling the pelvis to be balanced - tail bone gently softening down towards your heels, without tucking under too much to cause stress and tensions - shoulder blades drawingdown your back, enabling the chest to broaden and centralising the shoulder girdle - back of the neck long with the chin slightly drawing in towards the chest - so that the crown of the head can shine upwards towards the sky - arms by your sides reaching down towards the floor with palms forward to assist with the broadening of the collar bones - providing space for the breath to flow fully in and out of the body. Whaaaatttt??? How many things do I need to be thinking about?
This one simple posture, which you will be asked to come into time and time again between postures, with all of its alignment cues, is likely to feel odd - and certainly far removed from your habitual standing posture.
But at one time in your life - that aligned and steady frame is exactly how your body would have naturally stood.
Just look at a toddler or young child - they naturally stand in perfect posture. There are no hunched shoulders, no rounded upper thoracic spines, no wonky hips, knees or ankles. In fact, it's only usually until getting into the early teenage years where significant changes start to happen. The emotional knocks start to show up in our bodies. The shoulders round as self conscious teenagers start to draw inwards, taller children may want to become smaller to 'fit in', creating habits that change physical posture. For those that are sporty, such activities also start to imprint themselves on our bodies - muscles potentially become shorter, tighter - and that natural ease and strength that comes with softness begins to dissipate.
Over the years - more changes occur, as more and more emotional and physical knocks start to show up in our bodies. Back issues, shoulder issues, knee issues, headaches, migraines, tensions, blood pressure, skin issues, depression and anxiety. All symptoms of 'dis'-'ease'.
So, if you felt that your first yoga class was tougher than you thought it was going to be - then just think about all the years that your body and mind have been active and living day to day without a yoga practice.
As we grow up - our bodies and emotions may take enormous knocks - those knocks imprint themselves and our yoga practice helps us to peel them away, layer by layer - unravelling, and removing the blockages and 'crap' - helping us to get back to who we are and how we're meant to be.
I always remember one of my first yoga teachers, many years ago, advising me that yoga was all about getting to 'the truth of who you are'.
It stuck with me - even though, at the time, I recall thinking - hmmm that's all a bit dramatic for an exercise class. But how right she was. Over the years I've heard other teachers say exactly the same. And they too are right.
I've learnt that yoga practice is all about exactly that - peeling away the 'stuff', the stuff that inhibits the truth of who we are - the emotional challenges you may bear, the masks you may wear, the performances you may give.
Layer by layer, just like peeling an onion - hence why sometimes there may be sweat and there may be tears. Thinking about yoga in this way, then it's not really surprising that at times it's going to feel tough. And, of course, to really accomplish anything, you have to stick with it, as those layers won't peel away overnight - but with time and patience, perseverance and practice, it will happen. And as each layer removes itself, you will feel lighter, better and freer.
So, the next time you're feeling that your practice is tough - and wondering whether it's always going to be so challenging - just remind yourself of the greatness that's at play. The unraveling of years of dis-ease. The fact that you're on that rewarding but sometimes challenging adventureto uncover the truth of who you are.