Yoga Interview - The First Time

Written by Sarah English.

Yoga is a woefully misunderstood discipline. It suffers from a bad case of astrophysics which is to say that the word itself often engenders a polite nodding of heads and declarations of it being totally impossible to practice. Wanting to understand why these preconceptions are so deeply rooted, I inveigled my latest guinea pig - an avouched technophile whose array of LCD screens precludes having room for even the smallest of yoga mats - into answering a few questions about his first ever series of vinyasas. Introducing him to yoga was a real experiment, and I was curious to know what his thoughts about sadhana are. I've transcribed our conversation below.

man meditating

1. What's kept you from trying yoga before?

I think it's the stigma that it was a 'feminine' fad; I always had the impression of it as something that women thought was neat and incorporated into their workouts. I really thought it was just women who had seen something on television, and then their local gym started offering classes and it simply caught on. I never really took it seriously.

2. Are you aware that yoga encompasses more than just physical routines or workouts?

I'm aware of the breathing exercises that are a part of yoga, but that's pretty much the extent of it. I actually saw the breathing exercises in movies and as part of popular media. Other than the breathing and the physical routines, I'm not aware of other parts of yoga.

3. What was your impression of yoga prior to starting it?

As above, that it was really just a workout fad that women had opted to pick up at the local fitness club, but that it held no merit as far as my own regimen is concerned.

4. What made you start now?

The ability to try it privately with someone who is very knowledgeable about it and wouldn't be judgmental about my potential dislike of it or inability to do it.

5. What would proper practice look like? What would yoga ability be, as opposed to the inability that you've mentioned?

Doing it without noticeable strain or discomfort. Being able to adopt all of the postures properly and effortlessly.

6. After having tried a few sessions, what would you say is the most challenging component?

Any stretches that demand a lot of lower-body strength. I struggle with them, and my legs begin to tremble very early on. I realize that I have neither the lower-body strength nor the equilibrium, endurance to do the exercises.

7. What would you say to someone who told you that yoga routines (as we usually see them practiced in North America) and typical gym workouts are designed to accomplish some of the same goals (i.e. greater physical and mental health), but use vastly different methods?

I'd agree with that, now having tried it. You can achieve the same goals, but you'll arrive at them from divergent paths. You're not really doing a traditional workout, but it takes no less of a toll on your body.

8.Do you feel defeated when you can't master a posture immediately, or when it takes a great deal of effort?

No more than I would in a traditional workout. Once you understand the fundamentals, and you have someone to teach you the rudimentary poses, no, not really. None of it is so complicated as to be totally impossible; it's not so impossible that you can't find a beginner's pose. It is helpful, though, to have someone to show you those shortcuts so that you feel confident and can build yourself up.

9.Are you aware of the fundamental idea in yoga that states that as long as you're working within your own limits, and not those of others around you, you're successful in yoga?

No, I'm not aware of that.

10. What does that mean to you?

I wasn't aware of it, no. But if I think about it, it's actually an encouraging statement, and an encouraging mindset. Even modified practice for my own physical constraints, so long as I adopt some of it, is still of benefit to me. I find that a really comforting statement.

11.Does that change your impression of inability in yoga?

It would still be a little daunting to go in front of a class, but if I felt that, with a little more time and more comfort with my body and its constraints, if the yoga instructor did adopt that mindset (that perfection is not the only way to see a benefit in yoga), then yes, it'd be a comforting thought. Doing it by myself, it makes a big difference.

12.Would you be more likely to start in a class setting if it were advertised according to that mindset? For example, a total beginner/s class with no need for experience, all constraints welcome?

I would feel a lot more comfortable. I'd still feel some reticence, but I'd be more willing. It would be good to go to a small group (almost like a private school), in which you feel like you have more interaction with the instructor to get more hands-on instruction.

13. After having tried a few sessions, what would you say is the most appealing aspect of regular practice?

It's tiring, but it doesn't give me the same soreness of muscle as a traditional workout. It's rewarding, but without the same discomfort that follows an equivalent traditional workout.

14. Do you notice a difference in how you feel when you go through a routine?

Yeah, you get the same emotional and physical reward as a traditional workout - you feel better about yourself. Because it's not as painful the following day, I feel more willing to try it again. There's a heavier slant toward reward versus risk/penalty.

15. What sort of changes/differences do you notice?

A bit of muscle tension; I'm hoping to notice more strength in my ankles and wrists.

16. What do you think will be important for you to continue with your practice?

Continued support, but most definitely the biggest would be a sense of advancement. I'd have to feel that I can do longer sessions without tiring or hitting my straining point as quickly. Basically, my endurance should increase, and I'd want to see some benefit as far as strength is concerned. Not a radical increase, but it would be good to increase my strength and improve my posture.

I'd started with a few questions, and ended up asking nearly three times as many. Having been involved in yoga in one form or another for so long, the above viewpoint was completely unfamiliar to me. I think that this sort of feedback gives instructors, teachers, and centre owners a great deal to contemplate, especially regarding how to make yoga more accessible to the general public. It seems that yoga in the West could, at least for the benefit of the neophyte demographic, use a bit of a PR campaign.

See Interview on Yoga - Part Two.

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