Now that you're properly attired, you look like a yogi—but do you feel like a yogi? Maybe you're reluctant to begin that very first practice, because you know you aren't flexible or you're convinced you won't be able to achieve any of the postures you've heard about or seen.
The problem with an attitude of doubt is that it not only undermines your self-confidence, but it implies that you see yoga as a competition. We've said it before, but we can't emphasize enough how important this concept is, especially for competitive and goal-oriented people: Yoga is not a competitive sport! If you can't do the lotus position today, that doesn't matter one iota. Eventually, with regular practice, it will come. And even if it doesn't, it's still not a reflection on your ability as a yogi. You are much more than your body, and much more than the poses your body can achieve.
If you have a hard time relinquishing your competitive nature, try addressing your inner thoughts with these responses:
Your thought: I'm much more flexible than that poor guy next to me!
Your response to yourself: My body is responding well today.
Your thought: I'll never be able to do a headstand!
Your response to yourself: I'll master this shoulderstand any day now, as long as I keep practicing. Maybe then I'll think about trying to learn the headstand.
Your thought: I think the teacher likes me best.
Your response to yourself: I've really found a teacher who understands me and my yoga needs.
Your thought: At this rate, I'll never be as flexible as that girl in the front.
Your response to yourself: That girl in front does that posture well. I'll try to visualize how it would feel to hold the posture that way, and maybe my body will understand the posture better.
Your thought: I look really hot in this new workout gear or I look really hot in this muscle shirt and bicycle shorts, followed by I wonder if there will be any cute guys/girls in the class.
Your response to yourself: I feel really good in these clothes. I think they will be great for yoga. (What do you think your yoga class is, anyway—a singles' bar?)
Each posture you try should be a movement you're able to perform. Accept your current level of fitness and respect it. Also accept how you feel from day to day. You may be able to do postures one week that you suddenly are unable to achieve the next week. So many factors besides how "in shape" you are determine your ability to achieve a pose. Your mood, your stress level, the time of day, how well you have warmed up, your current feelings about yourself, the natural ebb and flow of your energy level—all these conditions will affect your workout. Each day, find your own movement and level.
Then start at that level, progressing as your body allows. Some days you may move ahead noticeably in your flexibility or strength. On other days, you may feel as if you have regressed. That's natural, and the regression will soon correct itself, so don't let it worry you. A good teacher can help you determine how fast you can advance, but you can also listen to your body, because it will tell you, too—as long as it isn't being overruled by your ego.
Remember that yoga is about toning down the ego. Your ego is what tells you to try to outdo the girl next to you or to match the picture in the book precisely. Your ego encourages you to try postures that are beyond your current fitness level, to hold postures too long, or to try the most difficult version of a posture first.
When your ego acts up ("How come I don't look like that when I do the shoulderstand?"), gently steer your mind in another direction. Remind yourself that this is your journey, and your progress is all that matters. The yoga road has no maximum or minimum speed limit!
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