I threw up after my first yoga class. I had gone to a heated “hour of power” class and muscled my way through it. I drank a ton of water before class, but maybe too much since I could feel all the water sloshing through my body as I struggled through wheels, planks, push-ups, crows and warriors. I didn’t take breaks, I didn’t listen to my body, I was determined to keep up with all of the other beautiful, fit, and flexible people in the room and I did it!!! At what cost though??? I was dizzy and nauseous all day long, I couldn’t walk the next day or lift my arms over my head and I pulled something in my back; this was supposed to be good for me???
Now after over 10 years of practicing yoga I look back to that first class and realize that I was scared and intimidated by yoga. Taking that first step to go to a class is brave in itself, then once you get there you have to figure out where to sign in, where to set up your mat, where the bathroom is and how you are going to make it through a 60 minute class? I remember the most intimidating thing about yoga was the other yogis around me. I always set my mat up in the back of the room because I had no idea what I was doing and secondly so I could people watch before class. There always seemed to be some lithe man or woman front and center who was basically a contortionist and could spend a long time on their head or their hands and twist themselves into cool poses. I used to find myself annoyed with these people because I felt like they were showing off, who needs to do forearm stands before class? I also think secretly I was jealous of them because I wanted to be able to do what they were doing. Anyway, I still can’t do a forearm stand in the middle of the room but my practice has changed from caring about what others are doing to focusing on my own body and mind and letting go of the ego. As my practice developed, I slowly moved my mat towards the front of the room, not to show off but because I had the confidence in myself and in my practice, the intimidation was gone.
Now that I am a yoga teacher I see people and their practices a little differently, I think of their safety in the poses and consider it my job to keep them safe and successful in their practice. I’ve backed people out of poses because I’ve felt that they were in danger of injuring themselves or worse yet, setting a bad example for the people behind them. One yogi flies into a wheel, everyone wants to join in! These are a few of the challenges of teaching yoga to “Every Body”, keeping everyone safe, having control of your class and still allowing people to find their expression. I’ve taught a lot of people yoga over the years and am proud to be a part of an amazing yoga community that is present here on the Seacoast. There is a wide spectrum of practice levels from the beginners to the “advanced” (see Allison’s blog) and many in between! One person who is a remarkable yogi here on the Seacoast who was the inspiration for this blog is Steven Longworth.
Steven started practicing at 3 Bridges in September of 2011. I remember seeing him in the studio before I had met him and thought, wow he has an amazing practice! Some of the old thoughts came into my head, I was intimidated by Steven and his practice and I secretly wanted to push into handstand from crow. After meeting Steven and getting to know him over the past year, he is the least intimidating, kindest and most gentle person you’ll ever meet. He has a graceful practice and is a joy to teach. He always listens to cues and never jumps ahead of the class. He is truly present and we are honored that he is a part of our community. Thanks Steven and keep rockin’ those handstands, Dude!
Notes from Bjorn – Steven does have an incredible physical yoga practice, but what rings for me, comes through our 21st century social addiction – Facebook. Being friends with Steven on facebook, I can see his awesome sailing pictures, but more importantly his Buddhist like status updates. His quotes often inspire my teaching, or it’s the right thing I need exactly at that moment. He writes them with an open heart and mind, and I am always reminded how we constantly learn from our yoga students.
Here are some of the highlights from his status updates – Most of these are from memory, so I apologize if I don’t say it quite right.
I never understood why people stop playing and grow old… it just doesn’t make any sense to me
I logged onto facebook today and saw many posts filled with anger. Let’s focus on the things that bring us together, not that separate us.
I make a point every day to stop what I am doing, to breathe, to look around, be with nature, and to just be for just five minutes.
1. What brought you to yoga and how long have you been practicing?
Quite some time ago, while playing guitar and singing at an open mike, I was conversing with a friend who urged me to consider yoga. It seems my music reminded her of the peace yoga can bring to our lives. Then a few days later, while dancing at a local nightclub and conversing with a different friend, I was again urged to consider yoga. A few days after that, this time at the gym, an altogether different friend urged me to practice yoga. “Well,” I thought to myself. “If all in one week, all these different people think I should practice yoga, then I should give it a try.” The following Thursday I attended my first yoga class… and the rest is history.
I took my first yoga class on March 14, 2002, so I’ve been continuously practicing yoga for 10 years. I began by practicing 3 days a week in the evenings, but because I continue to fall more deeply in love with the practice, I now practice 6 or 7 days a week, often twice a day, mostly in the mornings and afternoons. I meditate 30 minutes a day as well, usually in the evenings.
2. What pose has given you the most benefits either physically or mentally?
No question about it, Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose), has brought the most benefits to me most over the years, and it continues to bring greater and deeper meaning to my practice. I believe this posture places me in a position of ultimate vulnerability, with heart open and soul exposed to the universe. This pose never ceases to bring positive and moving results to me.
3. What has been the most challenging aspect of your practice?
Most challenging to me is the art of patience. Cultivating a patient attitude towards myself and having patience with the teacher is often difficult, especially when my body hurts and my mind is anxious to leave a pose. What I find interesting is 90% of the time, the challenge is not the posture or the physical body, but rather of letting go of expectations, calming the mind and being present.
4. What was your first “ah-ha” moment in your practice?
My first “ah-ha” moment occurred during the very first yoga class I took, so many years ago now. During Savasana, I had this immense and powerful moment where I realized, “I’m home… I’m finally home… right here… right now.” There on the mat, lying on my back, I believed fully that I could leave the world, my body could die, and it would really be okay, because I lived fully for at least those few moments, and I was perfectly and beautifully connected to everyone and everything. This brought me the highest level of peace I had ever known.
5. What would you tell a person who hasn’t made it to the mat yet?
You don’t have to do it today, you don’t have to do it tomorrow, but someday…. try taking a yoga class. You might just be happily surprised at what you discover.
6. Feel free to give a little info about yourself, hometown, occupation, fav. music, movies, etc.
I’m a rocket scientist at UNH, but when people ask what I “do” … I say I’m a dancer. I’ve always been and always will be. I believe the body was designed specifically to move, to dance… and I find yoga a great gift which brings much grace and joy to my dance.
I’m also an avid sailor and motorcycle rider. I sometimes say “sailing is yoga on the water”… and “motorcycle riding is dancing on wheels!” Hiking with my dog Lucy, star gazing and astronomy also bring me pleasure. You can often find me on crisp January evenings, lying in a snow bank, pair of binoculars in my hands, big smile on my face, and a wagging Lucy by my side.
I read a book a week, and some of my favorites are of history… especially historical novels and the history of science. Though I watch very little television, I do enjoy The 3 Stooges, Bugs Bunny, Cheers and an occasional classic Disney cartoon. One of my favorite movies of late is “Avatar”… I think having a tail would be most excellent!
I grew up in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, near Cape Cod. I joined the United States Air Force right out of high school, was a research SCUBA diver at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was awarded a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from UMASS Dartmouth, and am blessed with the most beautiful family in the world.
In writing these few words, I’m reminded how immensely yoga has influenced my life. And it occurs to me that yoga has brought a gift I never imagined would come from the practice… which is the gift of beautiful, cherished friends. Together we have this day… together we smile, together fly…