I’m Jacqui and I’m a British Wheel of Yoga teacher based in Consett. Whenever I tell people what I do I generally get a response along the lines of “ooh I’d love to try Yoga but I’m not fit enough/ not flexible enough/ I’m too short/ too tall/ I’m too old…
I’m sure you get the general idea and you could probably add a few more to that list too!
So I thought I’d share the story of my very first class. It might just encourage you to question some of those assumptions and after all we all have to start somewhere!
It was spring 1994 when I first decided to try Yoga. I had just turned 30 and in my head that was the first step on the downward spiral to old age and looming infirmity. I might even have discovered my first grey hair!
I found a class in Consett Sports Centre as it was known then – the old one on what’s now the Academy site. It was on a Sunday evening which fitted well with my full-time job and busy schedule so I went along to give it a try.
I remember putting on jogging bottoms and a t-shirt and hoping that no one would be wearing Lycra or leg warmers. After all Jane Fonda, in leotard and leggings, was still selling out in the exercise video department and Mr Motivator was strutting his stuff on breakfast TV in flamboyant figure-hugging outfits. Turns out I was pretty safe on that one. There were only three of us in the class including the teacher and we were all dressed like we’d come to fix the boiler. On the downside, there was definitely no hiding at the back!
It was all very different from anything I’d done before – the Sanskrit names were a mystery but I could see the rationale in the English translations. Cat posture and down-faced dog made sense. I was able to follow along reasonably well so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.
Right up to the point when we did Paschimottanasana or seated forward fold and my chronically tight hamstrings kicked in. Years of cycling and walking made sure that I could barely move more than a couple of inches and I was devastated. I sneaked a glance at the lady next to me and she virtually had her chin on her ankles! Despite being told that Yoga was non-competitive I couldn’t help but feel frustrated and a bit embarrassed.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was encountering something that’s really fundamental practice:
I needed to learn how to explore my limitations without pushing into physical discomfort or mental pain. To stop beating myself up for not being “good enough” and to stop comparing myself to other people. In Yoga terms these relate to the ethics of non harming (Ahimsa) and truthfulness (Satya) which deal with both how we treat other people and how we treat ourselves. That idea of being comfortable with myself as I was at any given moment and not wishing to be something “different” or “better” was something that applied not just to time on a mat but to everyday life as well. That took a long time to sink in – and I’m still not sure I’ve totally mastered it – but the seeds were sown at that very first session.
The practice finished with breathing and relaxation and by the end of it I was hooked. I went to classes and practised at home. It was another ten years before I even considered teacher training. I’ve been teaching now since 2008 which sounds like a very long time but ultimately I’m still a student. There is always something new to learn – whether that’s from current research into human anatomy and physiology, new ideas about the mechanics of movement or further debate about philosophical principles. More often than not it’s about improving my teaching by working with the huge variety of issues which affect the people who come to my classes. I now run some shorter sessions – just a hour- because people are busy and can’t always commit to 90 minutes, I have a Chair Yoga session for the people who struggle to get up and down from the floor and I offer a whole range of possibilities for practice in my general classes so there is always something for everyone.
Over the years I’ve also changed from the person who turned up for that first class. I have a good few more grey hairs now and I’m certainly not as slim as I used to be. My Paschimottanasana is still a poor imitation of the one you’ll see in yoga books or magazines but it has improved as far as my body will allow. More importantly, I like to think that Yoga has made me a largely calmer, kinder and more compassionate human being and ultimately, for me, that’s what counts.
So I really hope that you’ll consider giving Yoga a try. As you can tell from my story, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you are fit or flexible, tall or short, old or young. Yoga is a journey of self-discovery and along the way you might discover that some things change for you and that’s great. Or you might learn to accept that sometimes they don’t and that’s absolutely fine too!
So do I still I have days when unrolling my mat is a chore? When I’m grouchy or irritable or just plain grumpy? Of course, I do! Yoga may well have improved my understanding and awareness but it has yet to make me a saint! And you still won’t find me in Lycra.