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Yoga, the Arghh, Ah-ha and the Ahhh

As it usually happens early in the new year, I have heard from many newly inspired and/or returning yoga students, wanting to at last – or at least – try to bring the benefits of a consistent yoga practice into their lives. Some of them I have heard from in months or even years past, which is usually how the process begins – as a quiet, but insistent voice we all hear from time to time, pushing us towards balance.

When I first speak to someone who is new to yoga but sounding eager to get started, I know that it will most likely be about a year before I see them regularly in classes. I’ve learned that this “incubation” period is usually necessary and very normal. In fact, it’s the people that bound into the studio at first glance that will more likely not come back after one or two classes. But if there is a contemplation period – even if it appears more like procrastination – by the time this person gets to the mat, there is a good chance it will stick.

I like to let these brave beginners that they will encounter three stages in this work, and whether you are strong, weak, flexible or inflexible, it will invariably go something like this:

Three stages of hatha yoga:

Stage one: Arghh….The hard part. Looking at the pieces. As you begin, you will be working separately with the components of asana, addressing each area of your body with both static and dynamic contraction as you work towards alignment. You will become more familiar with the possibilities of a longer and deeper breath. You will begin to find a sense of your limitations and strengths. Eventually, this concentrated effort will evolve as a more single-minded effort. This first dimension of yoga is often the most challenging as you work through blocks and patterns that have accrued over time in the mind as well as the body. This stage is about purifying and healing as well as increasing mental stamina through the efforts of focus and concentration.

Stage two: A-ha…. Putting it together. The components of your practice will begin to merge into a more meditative process. Gains in strength and flexibility allow you to work more confidently with your edges, using your breath and deepened physical awareness to achieve greater depth in postures while maintaining alignment. There is a greater understanding of balance and internal work.

Stage three: Ahhh! Easeful Effort. As your practice grows, you can experience an energized calm which is at the core of your being, and you can begin to tap into your resolve. You will still experience the challenges of the earlier stages, but you will also find the resilience and purpose needed to move forward in your practice with more ease.

These stages can and should repeat themselves each time you take on another level of practice. Remember, the struggle is supposed to be there. Enjoy the ride.

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