Everyone loves a good yoga class. Being led in and out of different postures feels comfortable and safe. A good yoga teacher allows his or her voice to be like a guiding light at sea, always present and strong, but lenient enough for you to choose your own way, wandering off course as you wish. This feeling of simultaneous support and freedom lets the mind find quiet. We push our bodies to our own personal edges, but we let our minds ease into a steady rhthym of focus on our teacher's voice. He or she is always there, reminding us to relax and breathe and allow whatever happens to happen.
But, what happens when we approach our mats on our own? It's an experience that many people often treat with extreme worry and trepidation. I, for one, used to be terrified of my personal practice. The idea of stepping foot on my yoga mat without someone telling me what to do was an incredibly intimidating endeavor. I would attend a different yoga class 4-5 times a week, but I still didn't feel comfortable enough with my abilities to try it on my own. And that was the problem - I didn't TRY! I dismissed it as a possibility before the idea even really had time to develop. No matter how completely comfortable I felt with my love for yoga and the way it made me feel, I still saw some sort of segregation, a boundary line, between myself and "real yogis." Real yogis could meditate for hours. They only ate wheatgrass, and they had bodies like you couldn't imagine. They attended regular kirtans and only hung out with other real yogis so they could discuss real yogi things as they drank their kombucha and ate their kale chips. And it was obviously only these real yogis who could lead their own personal practices.
This is the kind of thinking, in which we all indulge from time to time, that must be stopped. No, not just stopped. Obliterated. We must systematically correct and soothe our self-doubting minds until we train ourselves to believe that whatever we are, whatever we have, is ENOUGH, until that self-doubt self-destructs. There's this one studio in Chicago, Yogaview, on my list of studios to check out that describes their different classes as levels 1, 2, and 3 - pretty standard. But, what I adooooree about this specific studio is that when you look for more detail about what the different levels 1, 2, and 3 entail, you see that they've named level 1 for "beginners," level 2 for "seasoned beginners," and level 3 for "experienced beginners." And THAT, that is what I love about yoga. We're all just beginners, learning and experimenting and figuring it out as we go. There's no limit to the amount of learning we can achieve. There's no such thing as "real yogis." There's only the stereotypes we create in our over-analytical and judgy minds that we use to convince ourselves that we're not good enough.
But, I promise - when you let go of this way of thinking (which is hard as hell to do) you'll realize that your personal practice is the most meaningful kind of yoga practice there is. Yes, yoga teachers are wonderful, and their ability to systematically help you find awareness of your body and mind is absolutely priceless. But, when you realize that you're perfectly capable to do this on your own, that feeling of success, of accomplishment and freedom is unlike anything that any other teacher can give you. One of my favorite lessons yoga has taught me is also one of the simplest ones. During one of my very first nights at my yoga teacher training, my beautiful and amazing teacher, Brahmani Liebman, looked at her over-eager, anxious class and asked us how to spell, "guru." "G-U-R-U," we responded uncertainly in unison, like where in the world was this going. Then she repeated, "Yes! Gee, you ARE you!" at which we giggled with new understanding. What Brahmani was teaching us was that we are each our own gurus, our own greatest teachers.
So, I ask, what are you waiting for? Just let gooooo. Bite the bullet, get on your mat, and breathe. You already trust your favorite yoga teachers unconditionally, so what’s keeping you from trusting yourself? Your body knows best – all you have to do is just give it a chance to prove it. And besides, if it gets a little weird, no one will know! People always use the expression, "dance like nobody's watching," so if nobody really is watching, what's keeping you from dancing like it?