Yesterday I went to a yoga class for complete beginners. The truth is I didn’t initially go for the yoga, I went to make friends. Less than two weeks ago I moved to Madrid, Spain. Sunday evening, while I was watching the Spanish families chatting after lunch, I realized that I needed to do something to meet people. I considered a number of options, and decided the best thing to do would be to find a yoga studio.
I discovered a place online that appeared to have a clientele that resonated with me and I found a class time that was convenient. During my final years of living in NYC Sublets I had become disillusioned with the yoga classes that were offered, so it had been six months since I’d taken a group class. This, combined with the fact that I wasn’t planning on exerting myself (remember- I was going to make friends) made me decide on the class for first-time yogis.
When I arrived the owner took one look at my intake form and tried to talk me into taking a more advanced class. I held firm in my strategy and insisted that the beginners’ class was what I wanted. He directed me to the proper room. I walked in and grabbed a mat.
We started in savasana, which was illuminating. No chanting, no seated meditation, no sun salutations. We simply laid on the floor, relaxed, and focused on our breathing. At first I stressed a little about trying to understand everything in Spanish. That was when I realized something: the more I tried to understand, the less I was able to process. Finally, I decided that the best course of action was to give up. Or in yoga terms: let go completely. Maybe I wasn’t a beginner at yoga, but I was a beginner at yoga in Spain so I decided to proceed accordingly. I relaxed and remembered my first yoga class. How comforting it was to focus on nothing, except the feeling of my body being completely supported by the floor. How supportive it felt to have the instructor focus her attention on the new student (me).
My Spanish Beginner’s Class was a similar experience to that first class I took 20 years ago. The teacher went out of her way to take care of me: to make sure I understood everything, and to help me make the tiniest of adjustments. She was a new teacher and saw me doing things differently than she had learned in Spain, so she corrected me. For example, I typically keep my feet apart in down dog. She learned it with her feet together, so she made sure I did it “correctly” every time. I decided to let it go: when in Madrid I would practice yoga like everyone else in Spain.
We did very simple techniques. A couple slow, highly modified sun salutations, child’s pose, legs up the wall, and a basic spinal twist. We took savasana after the sun salutations and after every seated asana. Everything was explained in perfect detail, with the focus on basic alignment.
The amazing thing was how much I loved it and how much I was able to completely let go. I left the class with a spaciousness in my mind and heart unlike anything I have ever experienced in a yoga class. The simplicity of both the asanas and the instruction allowed me to truly focus on what yoga is supposed to be about. I was able to experience emotion, acknowledge it, and release it on a deeply profound level. To put it another way: the simplicity of the external practice allowed me to focus almost solely on my internal experience.
The truth is I’ve done basic practices before, but never have I gotten so much out of them. In the past I’ve spent my time conjuring up advanced modifications, trying to be a hero and not use the props, or critiquing the teacher. This time it was different. Upon reflection, I think it’s because my recent practice has been so simple. My yoga over the past two years has been comprised almost exclusively of Nidra and seated meditation, with a sprinkling of Qi-Gong exercises thrown in. This has quieted my mind substantially, which allowed me to stay focused in such a basic class.
Ten years ago I needed a crazy vinyasa class with multiple arm balances and inversions to distract me from my day-to-day stresses and attachments. Back then, I couldn’t have done a beginner’s class with a quiet mind. In fact, upon reflection, when I was a beginner my mind wasn’t quiet either. It was fraught with insecurity at trying a new thing, fear I was doing something wrong and the need to master a new asana.
The morale of the story: simple isn’t necessarily easy, particularly when it comes to yoga. Sometimes the simplest of things are the most advanced, and lead to the most profound results.
I invite you to try and experience it for yourself. Since Share Yoga is dedicating March to Simplicity, why not take a beginner’s class one day? I would love to hear your experience. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or shoot me a tweet at @_flyingcarpet, and let me know how it goes!
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