Some people enter yoga from a dancing background, or a gymnastics background, maybe even a cheerleading background. These people already have an awareness of their bodies. They understand how their muscles work, what certain movements and engagement feels like, and chances are they are already flexible and strong. I can spot when a dancer comes to class, because they melt into the poses with seamless ease, and I can tell they enjoy it.
That wasn't how I started.
I started yoga with no physical activity background, although when I look back on it now I did like gymnastics in school (not that I was particularly good at it), and I remember getting praise for my shoulder stand at the time. I also remember the big brown Pommel Horse (just looked it up and apparently that's what it's called) that we would run at and attempt to catapult ourselves over and although it definitely had a funny smell, I even enjoyed this. Again, not that I was good at it.
When I started yoga, a good ten years later, I entered the classroom with no strength at all, an inability to touch my toes and the lungs of a serious stoner. As you might imagine, I did not have the same experience as a dancer who enters the yoga studio for the first time.
I started from the very bottom. But I never felt ashamed, because I always knew that I was just starting. I can give credit here to the studio I also started in; 'Summerhall Yoga' with Sam in Summerhall in Edinburgh, because the environment in that room was never one of 'competition' or 'achievement'. Instead it was one of spiritual advancement and openness. I knew that I was starting my yoga path, and those who could already do the poses may have already been on it for a long time; how could I try and compare myself (a newbie) to someone who may have been practising for years?
Nowadays, when my practice is advanced- as a result of 6 years of continual effort and passion; I still feel the same way. Last night a student came to my class who has a lot stronger upper body strength than me, and I was admiring his form and his beautiful chaturanga jump-backs. It's not something I can do, but if I keep practicing yoga with dedication and discipline, I know I will be able to get there. I'm not in competition with him, I can admire his strengths, as he could admire mine. We are different.
I've had this attitude from the start; if I just keep on going, I'll get there. The version of me that started yoga would be amazed by what I can achieve today, both on and off the mat. But some part of me knew it was possible if I just continued to put the effort in.
I think that it has made me a better teacher to have started my journey from a place of complete novice. I understand when my students can't do poses, can't do headstand, or can't touch their toes. It took me three years to learn to do headstand; that's a long time! But the process can't be rushed, nor should it be.
Patience is an important and valuable skill to learn, and yoga teaches us to trust that our commitment and hard work will pay off. It always does. Things come at the right time they are meant to, when our body and mind are aligned enough, balanced enough and focused enough that we are ready to open up to a new pose, or a new way of thinking.
The important thing is to remain focused on ourselves. We don't need to compare to others, this is our journey, and it will unfold in front of us in exactly the way that it's meant to, at exactly the right time.