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Slow and Steady Does Win the Race
by Nicole DeNardo
When I first started practicing yoga, I wanted to fly. I wanted to zip through my sun salutations and hop from pose to pose, thinking it would make me burn more calories, while also making me stronger. As a former dancer, I liked yoga to feel like a dance; therefore, I wanted to move fast.
As my practice progressed, I started thinking about becoming a yoga teacher. I researched various studios in the area and narrowed my selection to a few that seemed promising. I took a trial class at one of the studios on my list where my mind was blown and ego a bit shattered. The instructor came over and encouragingly adjusted my poses while explaining that some of the things I was doing (throwing my legs up in Urdhva Danurasana, for example) could hurt my body. At the same time, the class was a bit slower than others I had taken. However, much to my surprise even though it was slower, it was harder. By whipping through poses, I wasn’t strengthening or learning to use my muscles, instead I was using my athleticism and flexibility to carry me through my practice. In the slower-paced class I found that I couldn’t rely just on my flexibility to hold me in these poses. I was a weakling.
I felt there was much I could learn from this approach that challenged me to work harder at something that didn't come naturally. As a result, I enrolled at this particular studio for my teacher training. Over the course of the program, I learned about organic energy (flexibility) and muscular energy and how these needed to be in balance in order to be in correct alignment during yoga poses. I knew what alignment meant, but never heard it directly in reference to yoga. My teacher had studied Iyengar and Anusara styles, and I fell in love with both. This is from a person who thought they would be bored and frustrated with anything that took time and patience.
By studying these alignment-based styles, I didn’t have to wait long before some of the poses that once eluded me became accessible. I learned how to read my body and understand what to do in order to activate strength and draw energy to certain areas. Within a few months, I was able to do things I'd never imagined possible, such as Handstand (without having to touch the wall) or Pigeon (bringing my foot to my head). Even the pose which I once considered death became heaven: thigh stretch. With thigh stretch, my knee would feel like it was going to fall to pieces. However, I learned to open my heart and tuck my tailbone and activate the thigh in order to strengthen the muscles that support the knee. I can now do this pose without pain and can bring my foot to my rear! Once you know your body, the process of getting into the poses becomes clearer, yet at the same time, still challenging.
A common misconception about alignment-based yoga is that it is not compatible with a vinyasa or flow style of class. To the contrary, I’ve taken some of the best alignment-based flow classes, except now I am graceful as I move from pose to pose. I find that I am more balanced when practicing with good alignment (even in a flow class) and instead of trying to fly from pose to pose, I float like a ballerina.
I started my yoga journey as the proverbial hare that eventually learned to love yoga at tortoise speed. It wasn't until I slowed down the pace of my practice that I learned about the richness of yoga that I'd been missing. Making this switch helped me to improve both as a student and a teacher by taking it slow and listening to my body. I still believe yoga is a dance, but unlike before it is a graceful, elegant dance. Perhaps best of all, I've learned to take this "slow and steady" approach off the mat, reminding myself to appreciate the present moment rather than rushing head first into my next adventure.
Indeed in yoga and in life, slow and steady does win the race.
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About the Author
Nicole ("Cole") DeNardo is a whimsical free spirited yoga teacher who has written various short stories, novels and plays. She is an avid reader and animal lover. She hopes to spread the joy of yoga to both adults and children. You can find out more about her at her upcoming website namastenicoleyoga.com.