When I took my first yoga class I was a slightly awkward, impatient, young Media Executive with a mild case of anxiety (probably stemming from being so deeply wrapped up in the stories of my own life), who didn’t care for silence, wasn’t very good at sitting still, and couldn’t touch her toes.
I remember it as though it was yesterday. I went on a lunch break with a friend from work who had danced all of her life and who glided through every pose like she was born to be there.
I remember thinking how beautiful and simple she made it look – sliding into Hanumanasana (the splits) when I was struggling to reach my toes. I wondered how I could possibly make it through the class, awkwardly trying to keep still in meditation, looking around, feeling frustrated and lost in the dialogue and chatter of my mind. I left the class thinking I didn’t have the faintest clue as to what had happened in there and assumed that was the end of mine and yogas relationship. Little did I know, the universe had other plans. That was the first class of many, and one of many lessons to come.
Six years on, after a year of juggling full-time work with part-time teaching, I’ve recently stepped back from my job in the corporate world to follow what I’ve come to truly love, to teach yoga (aka to be a student of yoga).
Although it’s taken me a longtime on this beautiful and bumpy journey to get where I am right now – with the proliferation of yoga everywhere; with a new type of yoga school on every second corner, and an online yoga community like never before (particularly with the rise of social media, where yoga challenges and beautiful bodies in bikinis are frequently lost in a sea of hashtags) I regularly find myself questioning what the essence of yoga is really all about.
In my humble learnings so far, what I do know is this:
- Yoga is not about striving, gaining, pushing, achieving, judging or comparing.
- It is not about ‘no pain no gain’.
- It is not about what the person next to us is doing, what they are wearing, how their body looks, if they can levitate on two fingers, or if they even have two fingers.
- It is not about being flexible, pushing our bodies into postures, balancing on our heads, or getting a sexy pair of abs. Although some of those at some stage aren’t all bad.
- It’s not about how many instagram followers we have, how we look in a bikini, or what we do on the weekend.
- The practice of yoga is an examination of deeper consciousness – an expression of our whole being, of our whole self.
- It’s an opportunity for self exploration – an invitation to look a little deeper, to breathe, explore, nurture, soften and connect.
Sure, through practicing yoga asanas we can work strongly with the physical body, but also softly, holding each pose with ease and stillness of mind. We can also be an important part of the growing online landscape, but with humility and authenticity, appreciated the beauty in the images we are seeing, but not judging, comparing or forgetting what the real essence of yoga is about.
What we need to keep in the front of our minds is when the flexibility fades, the abs soften and the physical body tires – when we are all stripped back…we really are all one and the same.
The practice of yoga, on and off the mat is about learning (and then gently reminding ourselves when we forget) to open to and connect with the blessings we have each been given – this breath, this heart, this body, mind and soul. And on a wider level, the connection to all that is…this divine universe.
In the beautiful words of Deepak Chopra: ‘’We must learn to get in touch with the innermost being. This true essence is beyond the ego. It is fearless. it is free. it is immune to criticism. it does not fear any challenge. It is beneath no one, superior to no one and full of magic, mystery and enchantment”.
In a time where there is so much noise and distraction around working to achieve goals and results for this physical and temporary body, I write this as a gentle reminder to myself to use the tools yoga give us to breathe, open, soften and to come home. Home to the heart. For me, this is the biggest (and most rewarding) challenge of all.
Sophie Palmer has been practicing yoga for over 9 years and teaches a dynamic style of Hatha and Vinyasa yoga.
Like many, Sophie first turned to yoga for its physical benefits, but with time found the practice of yoga (both on and off the mat) was taking her on a deeper journey; allowing her to feel more open and connected to her heart, mind and surroundings.
Sophie has studied in Sydney, in Bali under Louisa Sear and Lucy Roberts and has completed intensive workshops with Clive Sheridan. She recently returned from India on retreat, where she studied Vedic Meditation and Ayurveda.
When she’s not practicing or teaching yoga, you can find her volunteering with A Sound Life charity, at the beach, exploring nature or in the kitchen experimenting with raw food creations.