Louise Hemfrey, one of our Yoga Quota regulars, beautifully describes the mental transformations that can occur with a regular practice and the importance of community in yoga. She's also made all of our staff tear up a bit...! xx
Imagine yourself lying on your back, with your eyes closed. A spring sunset is filtering through the new-leaf trees and the window is open just enough to hear the birds singing their evening ballads. You take in the smell of sweet evening air, and slightly stale sweat. You hear your instructor telling you to focus on your breathing, to relax your neck, unclench your jaw. You begin to adjust, unwind …
But the wooden floorboards are pinching at your lower backbones. Your wrists creek as you move into your first sun salutation. Your hips sting when you take a wide leg pose. Then you get whacked in the face as someone swings their hands over from Warrior 2, and the pièce de résistance comes when you attempt a one legged balance on your left foot and the whole line of tightly packed yogi-sardines topples like a row of dominoes.
For a long time, I thought Yoga was about perfectionism. So self-conscious was I of my lack of 'skill' on the yoga mat, and sensitive to the critique of dictatorial yoga instructors, I would only practice in the splendid isolation of my room.
Yoga Quota made me realise that no one’s practice is flawless, and that nobody – not even yourself – should judge a practice by some textbook standard. Yoga does have rules, it has set movements, what I like to call forms, which provide the essential mind-to-body experience that should be at the heart of a yoga practice. Yoga practice should not be dictated, however, if someone is going to leave feeling worse than when they arrived. It has to be agreed, between instructor and attendee – communication of understanding. What I learnt through the 30 Day Challenge is that Yoga Quota is like that: a commune – and an incredibly accepting one.
The first few times I turned up for class I was surprised by the small size of the room, and a little concerned by my proximity to my neighbours. I’m quite long limbed, and prone to being off-balance, I didn’t want to start poking someone’s eye out. I was also recently recovered from a head injury procured during a cycling accident – don’t worry, no other vehicles were involved, unless you want to include that squirrel I swerved to avoid – and had no desire to incur another trip to the John Radcliff.
Other attendees were jabbering away contentedly with the instructor, and I thought: “Oh great, it's one of those classes”. We all know those classes, where the attendees vie for the instructors favour, where there are a couple of really advanced people to whom the instructor will always say, “Look what X is doing, you should be more like that”. As we started the class, I was so paranoid about my form, I kept glancing at others in the room, judging my movements in comparison to theirs, deciding if I was better, or worse, than them.
But the instructor didn't praise some individuals at the expense of others. I realised I was not going to be penalised for asking for clarification on how a certain form should feel or flow. Everyone in the class had different strengths and different weaknesses, but the instructor’s tone the entire time remained calm, conscientious and, above all, constructive. I had never been in such a wholesome yoga environment, and I loved it.
After the first week, I finally found my voice, and began trading stories with the instructors’ at the beginning of class or asking for tips at the end. Yoga Quota has four instructors, each with their own style of teaching and communication, as well as preference for certain gruelling yoga forms, however they all share in this amazingly positive attitude to their work and contentment in themselves, which they effortlessly pass on to their attendees.
I didn’t come into the 30 Day Yoga Challenge thinking I would do yoga every day. I thought if I could at least do it every other day that would be a start, and even if I could only manage two classes a week, I would still get my money's worth. Within a week, however, my attitude had completely changed; I wanted to go do yoga, and I wanted to do it in those classes.
Everyday practice didn't seem like a chore anymore, but a treat. It was my motivator during those long hours of desk work, and freakishly unseasonal weather. There were still days where I felt less energetic, less committed, where the impulse to go do could be dominated by other thoughts and feeling, but every time I did go it always paid off afterwards. That hour on my mat was a break, a breather from reality, and even if I didn’t always realise it at the time, I needed it – I think in a lot of ways, we all do.
When I describe the 30 Day Challenge to friends I think a lot of them have the same reservations, and past experiences of yoga, as I did, but then I tell them what I've come to think of as the golden rule of Yoga Quota: it's all optional. If you want to take an optional Vinyasa, you can. An optional high lunge, an optional Happy Baby, an optional Corpse - that's when you just lie down. These moves are all optional because the practice is for you; it's not going to benefit anyone but you as to how you do it.
And remember, legs up the wall, is still yoga!