by Sarah Webb
Sixteen years ago, I “found” yoga at the recommendation of my primary care physician. Diagnosed with scoliosis in early adolescence, I believed my current chronic low back pain was directly correlated to being the mother of two small children: first the physical carrying of them in utero, and then the subsequent nestling of them upon my hip. However instead of being handed a referral, my doctor offered a suggestion. ”You know, I’ve been reading that yoga can help alleviate pain. Why don’t you give it a try first, before seeing an orthopedist?”
In 2001, there were not yet yoga studios on every street corner; in fact, there were only two in all of Rochester, NY. I based my criteria solely upon choosing a studio that was close to my home, and that offered classes that fit my schedule. While my beginning postures were wobbly, they became more fluid, and I became stronger through the process of practice, learning through repeatable actions that began to carry over into my life off of my mat. I don’t think my physician knew that his simple suggestion would transpire into a new path of my own making, as a student, as a teacher, as a trainer of teachers, traveling to the temples of South India, working with children in the brothels of Delhi. I certainly could never have imagined this life. And yet, all of these experiences have become the yoga that I practice and that is interwoven into the life I live.
What inspires one person to begin a yoga practice can be completely unique from someone else’s journey. I think the good news is that it truly is all there, but with so much to chose from, the question becomes, where and how to begin?
Finding a yoga class that meets your needs is comparable to standing in front of a bountiful buffet; the choices are seemingly endless. Are you searching for comfort food? Try a restorative yoga class. Something spicy? Perhaps a hot and sweaty Bikram class will do the trick. The beauty of the buffet is that everything is there for you to choose from, but it can be difficult to know from which end to begin, or to discern what choices will leave you feeling vibrantly full, rather than nauseous or overindulged.
When potential new students approach me, I encourage them to ask themselves what it is they are interested in experiencing from a yoga class? Are they primarily looking for an exercise class, or to improve their flexibility or balance? Are they looking for meditation to be incorporated into the practice?
Whatever the answer I encourage them to do some research, before attending a class, and ARRIVE EARLY to introduce themselves to the teacher. If you are recovering from an injury, or if you have any limitations, your instructor will want to know so they can assist you accordingly. A good teacher will be able to help a student modify their movements accordingly, allowing them to work safely to their appropriate ability.
Don’t be afraid to try different teachers, different studios, and different styles. Discover how each makes you feel. Returning to the buffet metaphor, would you like to go back for seconds of what you just sampled, or would something else be more palatable?
The gift of yoga is that it is intended as a practice, and a practice takes time, especially as you learn to feel your body in a completely new and experiential way. While this can be frustrating to new students, yoga is about you working in relationship to yourself, with your body, on a particular day. Frankly, some days are just better than others. Regardless, every time I practice I am reminded that our bodies as living, breathing entities are simply spectacular. So I show up, and the yoga becomes my map to make meaning, a space where I can both dive deeper, and see what unfolds.
Sarah Webb is an artist, a writer, a recovery coach, and a yoga instructor. Based in Rochester, NY and Monhegan, Maine, she has upcoming trainings @ balancewebster.com and retreats @ tobejustsew.com