Originally written by Zara M on 05 February 2014

I think I am re-entering the ‘upward struggle’ phase in my yoga practice – I found it difficult to relax and stay focused in the class this weekend. I’d like to blame that on the sugary muffin I ate prior to the session, but I know that mostly it is due to me wanting to take my practice more seriously and grow; my conscious awareness is consequently causing me discomfort.

If you read my blog last week you will know what I am referring to. For those who haven’t, I explored why both yoga and tango can feel so easy and pleasurable at times when we are blissfully unaware of our flaws; and then it becomes less pleasant, because suddenly we find ourselves in a different stage of personal development; one that forces us to be aware of our incompetence, and we consciously have to work harder on improving ourselves in order to get back to that blissed-out, natural and flowing sense of enjoyment.

We did our three-part breathing exercise at the beginning of the class sitting up this week, which was a different experience for me, as I always do it lying down on my back. So this was the first thing that felt unfamiliar. The instructor has also been encouraging us to use the muscles in our backs as well as in the stomach muscles when breathing into each section of the torso, and to be honest I’m not sure if I am doing it right. When I use my back muscles I feel like my body is becoming tenser rather than relaxing as I breathe and move the air through it. I guess this is just something I need to continue to practice until it begins to feel natural.

The instructor pointed out that when we come to a yoga class we are not actually ‘doing’ yoga; we are just ‘practicing’ it. Apparently the real yoga happens when we take what we have learnt in the class away and apply it to our everyday lives. Yoga is a way of life. With this in mind it makes sense to take the breathing exercises we do in class away with us to perform in our own lives; and the more we do that, the more natural, and part of us, it will begin to feel. These breathing exercises are not designed only to do while lying or sitting down after all; you can benefit from them in a variety of situations. You may even find yourself hanging upside down and want to apply some yoga breathing to the situation – who knows? Last week I found myself concentrating on the alignment of my body and breathing to make the task of carrying heavy shopping bags home less of a struggle, and the difference it made was very surprising!

We also tried out a new breathing exercise in the class, which involves a weird ‘pumping’ technique. You have to breathe the air into your body and then use your core muscles to pump it all back out immediately; and you do this rhythmically for about two minutes in order to warm up the body. I quite enjoyed it, it was fun; but the unfamiliarity and strangeness of it all did make me feel a bit self-conscious, which I found slightly distracting. That’s just me though. I enjoyed how it seemed to raise my heart rate by the end, and I felt like I had really been working my stomach muscles. I thought about what my belly would look like by the end of the month if I did that regularly.

Another problem I found that I had throughout the class was that I was feeling areas of discomfort in some of the poses, which was perhaps magnified because I was paying more attention to everything I felt I was doing wrong. For example, there were certain poses where the bones in my knees or elbows hurt as they pressed into the mat. I have felt this before and I always put it down to me being slim and not having enough meat on my bones! We had a new person who started the class on Sunday though and I was interested when she raised her hand to explain to the instructor that her knees and elbows were feeling ‘bony’ in certain positions, and was this normal? It made me smile, because I have been suffering from this particular niggle pretty much ever since I first started my yoga journey, and I have never wanted to disrupt the flow of the class to ask about it. I think it is really important to talk about any issues we have during a practice though, because it may be something that several other people in the class are also having a problem with.

I think I will suggest to the instructor to carve out five minutes at the end of the class for any questions, so that we all have the opportunity to address the things we found difficult and get some feedback that the group as a whole may find useful. Everyone in the class may be at different levels and on their own personal yoga journeys, but at the end of the day we are all there experiencing the practice together and we can benefit from some form of collaboration and exchange. The energy in the room has felt really good over the past few weeks, with new faces appearing for the Yoga4Tango short courses. So we should make the most of the community we are forming.

One thing I really noticed this week was the absence of our second yoga instructor, who normally circles the room assisting and making physical adjustments to everyone’s poses in the sequence. Perhaps I felt even more aware of the fact that I may not be doing things correctly, and I felt more insecure about my flaws because there wasn’t any reassurance from the assistant to help correct my body alignment. Often I can feel that my alignment is a bit off because I know that I am struggling in a pose, but perhaps at this stage it is still difficult to know by myself what it is that I need to adjust. I am looking forward to her return next week; she has been missed.

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