What Makes You a Yogi?
I don't have a lotus tattoo and I will probably never pull off a proper crow. But I'm just as much of a yogi as the people who do and can
"Is anyone here new to yoga?"
The question comes at the beginning of nearly every class I've taken. It's an effort to make sure no one falls on their head during a routine adho mukha svansana-or 'downward-facing dog' to those rookies. I'm not new to yoga. I took my first class around thirteen years ago, as a high school gym requirement, and I've practiced often over the last few years. But I always feel like I should raise my hand because I'm not like, a yogi. (The "Yoga Body" Stereotype Is BS.)
I know what namaste means and how to find my third eye. I know that pigeon pose is my favorite move because it feels like heaven for my hips. Utkatasana was the first pose name I actually recognized in Sanskrit because it meant that chair was coming, and I hate chair pose. It hurts! I've tried hatha and vinyasa yoga, but still can't really tell you the difference between them. Kundalini made me feel insane, and Bikram made me want to kill myself.
Even with all that, I still don't feel like a yoga person. I haven't earned the title. There's never incense burning in my home, and I wear leather shoes. The last time I really, really tried to do crow pose, my knees carved softball-sized, blue-brown bruises into my upper arms. It looked like I had been grabbed roughly and shaken repeatedly.
I particularly dread the "Is anyone here new to yoga?" question at one super pretentious studio near my apartment in Brooklyn. No one in those classes ever sweats. When given the option to hop or step from forward bend into plank, they always summon core muscles I'll never have to leap back into a plank. I'm the only one in any given class who sits out the headstands portion. It's an hour-long show-off.
Yoga shouldn't be scary, though. The primary goal is to literally breathe in and out. Classes culminate in lying down and playing dead at the end (one of the main reasons I love yoga so much). Anyone at any age can benefit from the practice, and no one ever really masters it. You're never done with something like downward-facing dog, because the move consists of moving the muscles in opposite directions, something you can never really "finish". Even the most zen practitioner still has some work to do during every down dog.
I'm trying to shake off my yogi imposter syndrome because, after all, another core goal of yoga is to focus inward. So when I set my intention at the start of a class, my goal is no competing, no looking around at the others to see how I shape up. I won't be knighted the second I pull off a headstand, or when my belly button actually comes out the other side of my spine. It won't be official just because the teacher comes around and whispers "beautiful!" to me...though I really like when they do that too.
I'm a yogi when I stop caring about those other people. Yoga is the one hour a day, or a week, or a year when I'm only thinking about myself. I don't have to light candles or go to India or wear prayer beads. I won't just arrive there one day. I'm a yogi when my hips feel like heaven, or when I feel calm and clean after savasana. I'm a yogi when I realize I'm doing mountain pose on the subway with my feet. I'm a yogi! Are you?