I came to volunteer at Blue Osa right after finishing my football season. I was excited to indulge in a new physical activity and was rather optimistic in regards to how I would perform in the yoga studio.
That should have been my first red flag; one does not perform in the yoga studio.
All I knew was that I was athletic, young, and in good shape, so I assumed I would thrive in class. This was very much not the case.
For one thing, yoga is not at all like football. Whereas the previous sixth months were spent building up strength and speed, yoga encouraged grace, power, and serenity. The two weren’t exactly interchangeable. In fact, my first session brought about the rude awakening that I was by far the weakest link in the class. My competitive nature had taken note of that. What was even more confounding was that the others didn’t seem to notice, or otherwise didn’t care how I was performing. That´s when I gained my first insight into yoga.
YOGA FROM A BEGINNER’S PERSPECTIVE
1) Yoga is a personal experience, free from competition or judgment.
For the first time in a while, I wasn’t expected to perform. Rather I was expected to participate. I was instructed to let go of my stresses and insecurities and accede to the practice. When I made this discovery I was en route to becoming a yogi, and I enjoyed it.
The kinetic movements were also drastically different. Whereas in football you constantly keep your guard, case a burly linebacker comes your way, yoga encourages you to submit and be vulnerable. I was able to relax and let my body go in a way that I hadn’t been able to previously achieve. It felt great.
This allowed me to start doing something I previously hadn’t thought of much in regards to physical activity: breathing. Whereas in sport I would only take note of my breath when I had lost it, yoga encouraged me to constantly monitor my breath. Thus, insight number two.
A wise friend once told me the following.
“Yoga without monitoring your breath is just aerobics.”
And it’s true. If you’re looking for a workout, go take an aerobics class. Yoga is a journey inward accompanied by physical movements. The positions are redundant if you aren’t breathing correctly. This I learned once again from my own actions. I was struggling in some foreign position, with my body contorted and my muscles spastically convulsing, wondering how on earth everybody else was so calm. Then I felt a touch on my back and a subtle whisper,
“Breathe,” instructed the teacher.
I hadn’t taken note of it but I was holding my breath. Big mistake. For the rest of the class, I started monitoring my breathing and subsequently I found the positions to be much more manageable.
This has in fact been a huge takeaway for me, one that I will definitely bring to the football field. Your breathing is crucial.
The other day, myself and one of the other workers here were practicing our handstands on the beach. We were simultaneously performing one after another with no rest, no thoughts in between. Suddenly something occurred to me. Breathe. I told Johan to stop and take a few deep breaths before his next attempt. The results were indisputable. Both of us performed our best attempts of the day because we slowed down for a second to monitor our breathing.
Flash forward a few weeks and half a dozen classes and I was starting to get my bearings with this new activity.
One day, I was walking back to the office when I complained to a friend that I wished we had held a certain position for a few seconds longer.
“Oh you could’ve just stayed in that position,” she said.
I was a little taken aback by this. In football, if you deviate away from the way a play was designed by so much as a step, everyone feels the repercussions. Routes are drawn up, blocking patterns assigned, and snap counts are implemented in such a way that success is contingent on everyone adhering to scrupulous details.
Now my friend was telling me that, should I feel comfortable doing my own thing, I’m fully authorized, encouraged even, to do so. Welcome yoga insight number three.
3) Listen to your body
A good teacher can put you in the right positions but you have the final say as to whether or not that position works for you. A teacher is a guide, not an instructor, so if something doesn’t feel completely right, feel free to tweak and cater to suit your body’s needs.
Yoga insight number four I liked uncovering very much. My epiphany came about after a morning class, one sunny afternoon. I was doing rather well for myself, transitioning from my cats to my cows, and my upward dogs to my downward dogs. In fact, you might even say I was killing it. Then something caught my attention. A very noisy bug had availed himself to a tour of the studio and became exceptionally fascinated with the window pane directly above me. Like most insects, he failed to comprehend the nuances of clear glass and became rather disorientated. He flew up and down, left and right, constantly bumping and smashing into the window pane directly overhead.
The bug captured my complete attention and I couldn’t focus on the asanas for the rest of the class. Even when the teacher was talking, all I could concentrate on was the constant buzzing and the palpable sound of the bug’s meaty head ramming into the window. I distinctively remember leaving the class feeling more stressed than I had when I went in. This point led me to seek out yoga insight number four.
NOT SURE IF YOU’RE READY FOR YOGA TEACHER TRAINING?
We Created This FREE 5 Part Series So You Can Discover For Yourself!
Yoga requires discipline. Your full attention should be directed towards the practice. Of course, thoughts and ideas are going to pop into your mind, but it is your job to dismiss them. Do not entertain these distractions.
I liked incorporating discipline into my yoga practice. I was familiar with discipline. Like yoga, football requires strict discipline. You may be tired, you may be weak and out of breath, but you need to persevere.
Furthermore, we can approach the two concepts from a broader term. When I played football in University I was required to practice five days a week, go to the gym five days a week, be present for film and team meetings five days a week, and this was on top of all the work I would have to do for school. Being a student athlete taught me a lot about discipline. There were days when I didn’t feel like working out or going to film, or doing homework, but I had to. If I didn’t work out I didn’t play. If I didn’t pass my classes I didn’t play. The fact that I had a higher motive allowed me to rationalize the temporary discomforts.
The same is true for yoga. Yoga requires tremendous discipline in practice. And I’m not referring to the physical practice – which also should be approached with obedience and order -but to the discipline required when off the mat. I was shocked to discover that I could practice yoga outside the studio, but inherently that’s what is so. Yoga is concerned with how you transfer what you practice on the mat into the outside world.
Okay but what about when you simply cannot summon that discipline? What if there’s something on your mind or an itch that needs scratching? Then what? Well, sometimes it is necessary to summon external forces to aid in maintaining that discipline. In both football and yoga alike, there exist mediums to help you stay motivated. Utilize them. Yoga insight number five illustrates that exact point.
5) Find ways to stay motivated
Chanting. In both activities, chanting is a tremendous way to energize, boost morale, and fully immerse yourself.
“Mantra meditation shows us beyond the shadow of a doubt that when the mind is absorbed in the mantra, we are more alive and peacefully vibrant than at all other times”
Group cohesion is another motivating force. In both football and yoga, you are surrounded by other people trying to achieve a similar goal. Whether that be to put points on the board or achieve enlightenment, those surrounding you can aid you on your journey.
And of course…breathing exercises. Inhale through your right nostril and exhale through your left. This traditional Pranayama technique will energize you immediately.
My insights into yoga have hitherto come this far. Fortunately, the joy of yoga lies not in the destination but in the journey. These insights are my own, and I will continue to uncover them as I continue my practice. Another realization is that this list will never be complete. I will constantly be editing, revising, and adding to it the more I learn. Coincidentally I will leave you with one final insight, yoga insight number six.
6) The insights to yoga are both personal and endless
Maybe some of your insights coincided with mine and maybe some didn’t, but one definite similarity between our lists is that they are both incomplete. So keep practicing, learning and uncovering. Just remember to breathe and enjoy along the way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ben von Jagow is an avid traveler and aspiring writer from Ottawa, Canada. He studied Business at the University of Western Ontario and worked in the banking industry before leaving the country to wander. His frugality coupled with his passion for adventure has transformed him into a traveler who searches for diversion in the unorthodox. Before coming to Blue Osa, Ben played professional football in Spain. At Blue Osa he spends his free time being manhandled by the waves with a surfboard trailing somewhere close behind. Despite the ocean´s attempts to dissuade him, he can usually be spotted returning the next day with a smile on his face. To see more of Ben´s work, visit him at www.benviajando.wordpress.com.