What I’ve learned in 3 months of yoga

Three months ago I did my first yoga class. Three months ago I was a different person from the one I’m today. Probably, in three months from now, I’ll be a totally different person as well. I realized that a couple of days ago. I was showing my boyfriend some poses and suddenly I realized how I’ve changed in those three months of practicing:

I CAN BE FLEXIBLE TOO.

 

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I know, it may sound silly but I’ve always thought my flexibility was forever gone. I’ve never been able to bend that much. It’s been years since my fingers touched my toes keeping my legs straight but last week I did it. I was struggling, a lot, but I did it and I was so happy that I’ve achieved that little step. It means that one of the reasons why I’ve started yoga is working. It means that I’m not going to be a piece of wood for the rest of my life. It means that my body is working, is stretching, is becoming more fit.

NOBODY CARES HOW GOOD I DO A POSE, EXCEPT ME.

 

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At the beginning of my yoga classes, I was always looking all around, while doing a pose, trying to see if it was just me that was struggling to hold the pose. One day, I decided to do yoga at home. I rolled my mat, grabbed my strap and block, and started doing some poses that we learned in class. I realized that holding the pose wasn’t that difficult anymore. I was focused just on myself and standing just on one foot doing the tree pose was still a challenge, but less frustrating because I was focused on my body, on every single muscle contracted to reach the stability. The next day, I had a yoga class and while we did the tree pose I realized I wasn’t looking at my classmates.  I was just looking at one point on the ground and I kept my gaze there. I held the pose, not for all the time, but for most of it. I didn’t feel frustrated. I felt good because I stopped from comparing myself to others.

I’M MORE EAGER TO DO PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

 

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They say that you need 21 days to built a habit. 90 days after the beginning of my yoga practice I can say that it’s pretty true. I’ve never been an athletic or active person. Even at the time in which I was practicing swim or volleyball I never felt the need or necessity to do physical activity. Now, I feel that need. I want to do it because I like what I’m seeing, I like my body changing, I like that my body is stronger now. When I don’t have class I just roll my mat in my basement and I do some practice, just because I want it. It is something strange for me, weird in a good way.

I can’t wait to see what I’m going to learn in the next three months.

NAMASTE.

 

 

 

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1200 miles road trip in 4 days.

Be an au pair means that you have only two weeks of paid vacation through the year. I’m not complaining, two paid vacation weeks it is awesome, but for someone who wants to see as much as possible of the country in which is living for a strict amount of time, it is not that much. That’s why I came out with the insane idea of traveling thru the Midwest till Nashville in four days, touching six States: Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri,  Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana.

I found the perfect companion in 5 German girls. Franzi, who lives in Madison and is an au pair as well, found out that her roommates from Germany where coming to the States the same time I was planning this road trip. Everybody accepted.

Thanks to my host parents we didn’t have to rent any car (which for under 25 is a nightmare, btw) and we drove that poor 2005 Honda Odyssey for something like 1200 miles. We had to change the oil along the way because, well, I hadn’t check anything before we left. But, we made it home, that’s what it matters.

FIRST STOP: ST. LOUIS, MO

I drove from Madison, Wisconsin, to Chicago, Illinois on Friday night after work. I met the Germans at my host family’s condo in the Windy City and we spend the night there. The next morning we left around 9 am, after having breakfast and put the gas into the car, we headed to St. Louis, our first stop. It was there, just entered the highway, that the orange sign that alerts you to change the oil popped out. Yeah, lucky us. We decided to drive till it dropped to 10%, only when that moment would have come we would have start searching for help.

I don’t know if you ever experienced the Wisconsin winter, it’s not nice. It’s really really cold. Chicago is basically the same. Driving south was amazing for us. We left our jackets in the car and we started to feel the spring and the warmth of the sun.

We arrived in St. Louis, MO around 4 pm. We found the Airbnb, a really nice house in a quite neighborhood in University City, just 15 minutes from the Gateway Arch.

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We drove to downtown St. Louis and we spent a lot of time taking pictures at the Arch. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go on top of the Arch because it was closed because of work in progress.

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SECOND STOP: NASHVILLE, TN

The next day we left St. Louis around 8. On our first stop, about 1 hour and a half after departing, we decided to change the oil. We found a Walmart with an Auto Center and in about one hour everything was fixed. We arrived in Nashville around 2 pm and we decided to head straight to Centennial Park before going downtown. It was a Sunday and there was a lot of people hanging out there. The weather was awesome even if cloudy. I think I was more attracted to the people having fun all around the Pantheon than by the Pantheon itself.

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We drove downtown Nashville and we parked at the Public Library. Suddenly we fell in love with the city. Broadway, the main street, was amazing. There was music everywhere, people having fun, bands playing at 3 pm, country stores selling boots. Everything was like in the movies and we decided to stop at a bar and drink a beer before heading to our amazing Airbnb, just 10 minutes away from downtown.

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The next morning, before heading to Louisville, KY, we decided to try to find one of Nashville’s famous graffiti.

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THIRD STOP: LOUISVILLE, KY

After taking our Instagram pictures and a stop at Starbucks we headed to Louisville, KY. It was just a 3 hours drive, we were supposed to arrive by 1 pm but Franzi and I had this idea of stepping off the highway and try to find an Amish village. I was searching on Google and it was said that there was the biggest Amish settlement close to Munfordville, KY. I think we drove around 1 hour in the middle of nowhere, asking everyone where the Amish people were. The answer was always the same: “go straight, up the hill, you are going to see them”. Did we see them? Absolutely not. At one point we thought they were hiding from us. We just gave up and ate a burger at Wendy’s before driving another couple of hours to our third destination.

We stopped at the Airbnb first, it was around 4 pm when we arrived. The house looked pretty dodgy from the outside. It was an old house but it was ok for the amount of time that we were going to spend in it.

We drove downtown Louisville, to the Fourth Street. It was a Monday and obviously, nothing was going on. It was raining too but after looking around we had dinner in an amazing place suggested by our Airbnb host: Gordon Biersch Brewery.

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Before going back to our apartment, we decided to take a walk on the Big Four Bridge. A really nice walk on the Ohio River where you can have a nice view of downtown Louisville.

FOURTH STOP: INDIANAPOLIS, IN.

We left a rainy Louisville to head to our last and quick stop, Indianapolis, IN. The weather, on the way up north, was terrible but as soon as we arrived in Indianapolis it stopped raining. Louisville and Indianapolis are about 1 hour and a half apart, not a big deal. We decided not to go downtown Indianapolis but look at the skyline from the White River State Park.

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After lunch, we drove all the way up to Chicago and then to Madison, WI. We arrived at our last destination around 9 pm. We were in Chicago during the rush hour so our timetable got one hour delayed. Instead of 5 hours, it took us 6 hours.

This road trip was amazing and exhausting at the same time. We drove more than 1200 miles, we changed city every day and we saw so many things that sometimes it is hard to remember. But road trips, as much as they are exhausting, they are perfect to see, to go on an adventure, because they allow you to stop when you want. Yes, you have a timetable but everything can be changed based on your needs. I’m so glad I had open minded companions in this travel and I’m glad I’ve shared this experience with them.

NAMASTE.

Legs up the wall

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Since I was a kid I have this habit to lay on my back and put the legs on the wall. It relaxes me, it stops my legs from hurting after a workout or a long walk.  I can read, I can work on my computer putting a pillow under my head, I can watch a movie. I thought it was something that was mine, my characteristic, my peculiarity. Pinterest made me find out that I’m not that unique, under this weird point of view.  Scrolling down the home I found this picture with the description of all the benefits that this pose has.

I was a little bit disappointed at the beginning, then I saw the bright side: since I was a kid I was practicing yoga in my weird way. So I did research about the argument and I found out pretty interesting things.

First of all, the right Sanskrit name is “Viparita Karani“. Viparita means inverted, karani means making. So, it could be translated as “making inversion” because it inverts everything we usually do when we are seated or we are standing. I’ll probably keep calling it “legs up the wall”, it’s more figurative and it is easier to remember.

It’s one of the most restorative poses in the yoga world and has a lot of benefits:

  • it can help alleviate headaches
  • it’s an energy booster
  • relieve lower back pain
  • it can help against jet-lag
  • it relieves stress
  • it relieves tired leg muscles

It is a pose that can be held from 5 to 20 minutes. At the beginning, it may feel weird in your legs, like a weird tickle. Just bend your knees and give your legs a little movement. This simple pose, that doesn’t need any kind of warm up and it can be done everywhere, it can really help your body to relieve pain. It boosts your brain too. In this pose you don’t have to focus on any kind of muscles, you just have to relax, free your mind and let your blood slowly go back to your brain. I had my best ideas stuck in that position, even if at the time I had no idea it was connected to yoga. I just did it because it made me feel good. Adding a breath technique helps even more.

This simple pose, that doesn’t need any kind of warm up and it can be done everywhere, it can really help your body to relieve pain. It boosts your brain too. In this pose you don’t have to focus on any kind of muscles, you just have to relax, free your mind and let your blood slowly go back to your brain. I had my best ideas stuck in that position, even if at the time I had no idea it was connected to yoga. I just did it because it made me feel good. Adding a breath technique helps even more.

So, basically, for my entire life, without even knowing it, I was giving my body all those benefits. I don’t even know how I started. Most likely in the summer when I needed the fresh wall to relieve the pain of the warm summer air. In my Italian house, we don’t have air conditioning, we just open the windows and let the air do its job. Sometimes it doesn’t work, when the summer is really hot the air doesn’t do its job and you have three other possibilities: go in the basement, open the fridge and hide in there or put you close to the wall. It is something that I’ve always done since my bed is close to the wall. So, that’s probably how I started to practice Viparita Karani without even knowing it.

NAMASTE.

 

 

Savasana: to be.

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“To deeply relax the body, we must first rest the mind” 

Since the first days of yoga practice, you start to learn different words in Sanskrit. Most of the time those words are really hard to remember. Like Svadhyaya (I still have problems writing it). But there’s one yoga pose name which I learned pretty easily: Savasana.

Savasana comes from the union of two Sanskrit words: Shava, meaning “corpse”, and Asana, meaning “posture” or “seat”. That’s why it is commonly called “corpse pose”. Actually, it looks like it. You lay down on your back, the arms spread at about 45 degree and eyes closed. It is usually done at the end of the yoga practice. It helps the body to reset itself after the body had been stretched, contracted, twisted and inverted. This means that every single muscle of your body can be relaxed, shed their normal habits and let go.

According to scientists, Savasana has amazing benefits on the brain too. During the practice we are bombarded with a lot of new information: new yoga poses, weird Sanskrit names, a lot of words that helps you set your strength and balance. It’s a lot to process in an hour. That’s why Savasana helps the brain too. It’s a way to pause it between the practice and the day that awaits you ahead.

Let’s say it clearly. Savasana may seem an easiest and useless pose. I thought the same. I changed my mind once the teacher explained us the real intentions of Savasana: letting go. For those minutes in which you hold the pose you are supposed to let go the practice that you just had, let go the life that awaits you outside the yoga mat, let go everything. For those minutes you just have to rest, clear your mind, let go. I tried. I seriously tried to clear my mind. Even after an exhausting practice, my mind keeps wander and wonder. I think about what I have to do next, my schedule for the day. If the Savasana takes longer the mind wanders even more: my family, my friends, my future. Everything suddenly pops out and I start to talk to myself. I impose myself to stop wandering but it’s difficult to let go.

We live in a society that always makes us think about the future. When you are young you have to know already what you want to do when you grow up. Once you’ve reached one goal you have always to aim to another. We hardly set our thoughts on the present. It’s always a constant worrying about what’s next without focusing on the present, without really understanding what’s going on in our life, without enjoying the moment.

That’s what I want for my Savasana practice. Being able to really let go. To focus just on myself even for a brief moment in my day. Not focusing on my future, but focusing on me. How do I feel, how am I practicing, how am I enjoying the moment. This is going to be hard, I know it, probably more than keeping the balance on a tree pose but I’m going to try it hard. I’m going to try to just be. 

NAMASTE.

Four States, two days.

Las Vegas. The Sin City. Lights. Gambling. Music. Casino. People. A lot of people. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. Lots of movies, tv shows, and songs celebrate this weird city in the middle of the desert. I have to admit it, when I booked my flight to Las Vegas two weeks ago I didn’t know what to expect. You know, during the night you have fun in Vegas, but during the day? We had just two full days and we didn’t want to spend them in a hotel room or doing shopping in stores that can be found 20 minutes away from home. We looked up on Pinterest and we found out that around Las Vegas there are so many natural attractions that fit all of them in two days was kind of impossible. 

We took the flight from Milwaukee on Thursday night, 9:55 PM. We landed in Las Vegas around 12 AM and after stopping at the car rental to grab our car, we headed to our first hotel: Fiesta Henderson Hotel and Casino. It is in the south part of Las Vegas, away from the sparkling lights of the Strip. Next morning, at 6 AM, we woke up and we drove four hours and a half to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. While I was driving my eyes were wide open, trying to collect all the amazing views in front of me. The landscape was stunning, it changed a lot in the hours that we were driving. It was dry at first, then a lot of trees appeared and then we arrived at the Grand Canyon. We paid 30$ to enter the park with our car. We decided to head to the Mather Point and when the canyon appeared in front of us it took my breath away. It was stunning. One of the best things that I’ve ever seen. 

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It was around 1 AM when we decided to move up north to the Desert View where we visited the Watch Tower. There we had lunch looking at the amazingness of the Grand Canyon in front of us.

We didn’t want to go back to Las Vegas yet. We knew there were other things just two hours and a half up north. So we decided to drive thru the Navajo Nation and reach Page, AZ. Our first plan was to visit the Antelope Canyon but it was too late so we stopped at the Horseshoe Bend. We parked the car and while the sun was starting to hide behind the clouds we reached the point. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was perfect. It’s truly difficult to explain how beautiful everything was. We stayed there till the sun went down.

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After that, we decided to drive back to Las Vegas. After driving other four hours and a half thru Arizona, Utah, and Nevada we finally arrived at our other hotel, Super 8, behind the Strip. We were so tired when we arrived around 11 PM that we didn’t even think of going out. We took a shower and we fell asleep right away.

The next morning we woke up around 7 AM and, after a nice breakfast at the hotel, we drove two hours to the Death Valley, CA. The weather wasn’t nice as the day before and when we arrived at the Death Valley we couldn’t see thru Dante’s View because it was so cloudy and foggy. We decided to go to Zabriskie Point and then drive till Furnace Creek.

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After that, because of the weather, we decided to drive back and head to the Valley of Fire just 40 minutes from Las Vegas. We decided to go there because in Las Vegas was raining while there, according to the weather app, it wasn’t. We were lucky. We arrived around 4.50 PM and the ranger told us that the park was going to close at sunset, around 5:15 PM. We drove like crazy. We wanted to see as much as possible and it was totally worth it. It was stunning. Much better than the Death Valley. It was spectacular. The colors were so bright it was unbelievable.

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Finally, we headed to Las Vegas. We spend just a couple of hours there. We walk around the Strip and we saw the Bellagio’s Fountain performance. At 11:25 PM there was our flight back to Milwaukee.

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In the end, I have to admit it: we didn’t experience the real Las Vegas. We slept there and we walked around a couple of hours. Do I regret it? Nah, not at all. There’s going to be another time in which I will go to Vegas just to have fun and get wasted. This time we decided that our adventure spirit wanted to be satisfied. We drove 13 hours, I don’t know how many miles. We drove day and night, with the rain and the sun. We were tired, at the end. If you ask me if I will do it again I’d say: ABSOLUTELY. After this vacation, I feel like my soul had been fed again. Everything I saw was worth my time. I checked out of my bucket list amazing places that before I had seen only in the movies. Travel is amazing, it makes you live again, it makes you grow, it makes you be a better person.

This wasn’t a post about yoga, I know. But traveling is an important part of my life. It makes me feel alive. That’s why I will try to put every significant travel in this blog, alongside with my yoga journey. Isn’t yoga this too? Find your true self. I feel like traveling is like yoga, it makes you find yourself. It makes you understand who you really are in an environment totally different from yours. It challenges you. It drives you crazy sometimes but, at the end, it makes you feel amazing, balanced and alive.

NAMASTE.

Svadhyaya: understand ourselves

Sometimes try to understand ourselves it’s even more complicated than try to understand others. At least, it is what always happened to me. I’m great in giving advice, in understanding someone’s else situation but when it comes to me, to understand who am I. Well, that’s totally another story. That’s what our first assignment in my yoga class was about: understand ourselves, in Sanskrit SVHADYAYA.

As my beloved Wikipedia says:

“Svādhyāya (Devanagari: स्वाध्याय) is a Sanskrit term which literally means “one’s own reading” and “self-study”.

My yoga teacher described it as:

“Self-reflection is a form of self-study, and in yogic terms is called “svadhyaya.” Svadhyaya, in it’s beginning forms, is a way in which we can learn to see ourselves more deeply. Svadhyaya can be a way of changing the way we think about ourselves by pointing our attention towards more purposeful, and meaningful ways of engaging with life. Svadhyaya is metacognitive (being aware of and understanding your own thinking) by nature, and is also considered to be a spiritual endeavor and in the context of connecting with ourselves and others. We can learn a lot about ourselves by considering how others perceive us”. 

Svadhyaya. It’s such a difficult word that means so much. So I sat cross-legged on my huge king size bed, my laptop in front of me, a cup of matcha latte on my nightstand and I started my journey. What came out was actually something that I’m proud of. I’ve never thought of myself in the ways I did in that paper. I seriously tried to understand those parts of my personality that I’ve never overthought. I helped myself with some quotes on Pinterest that I had saved in one of my boards. I know, it may sound stupid, but what I saved in that board helped me so much. The teacher required two handwritten pages. At the end, I had 3 pages fully written.

Who am I? It’s not an easy question. I’ve been living with myself for 24 years and still, I have problems trying to understand parts of me. I know I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m someone’s au pair, I’m someone’s friend and probably someone’s enemy. But above that, who am I is still a question that makes me nervous. I know that I’m not the same person I was when I decided to move to the States one year ago. A lot of people, when I told them I was moving for two years in the States described me as BRAVE. I’ve never considered myself as a brave person until I realized that what I was going to do wasn’t something that anyone could do. Leave your family, your friends, your hometown and all you know for the unknown. I didn’t consider myself brave not because I have a low self-esteem of myself but because what I was doing was something that I knew I wanted to do since I was in high school. It was a dream. Just now I understand that following your dreams make you brave in others people eyes.

I found a word, a couple of months ago, that I think describes myself at the best: AMBIVERT. An ambivert is a person who has a balance of extrovert and introvert features in their personalities. I’ve always struggled growing up trying to understand if I was more introvert or extrovert. Somebody described me as an introvert, other as extrovert so I was always wondering which one of those two adjectives described me the best. When I found the word “ambivert” I found my adjective. I’m the kind of person who loves to go on adventures, to take a flight and discover other cultures, hang out with friends and create memories. On the other hand, sometimes I just want to lay in bed and watch Netflix by myself. I’ve never been afraid of loneliness. Sometimes I need a pause from people and I need to enjoy my presence, I like it.

I’m also a very CONFUSED person when it comes to my future. I moved to the States with the purpose to fulfill a dream and find my road. I studied Foreign Languages in Italy, Spanish and English. I chose that faculty because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. About my future, I tried to create a plan but I’m NOT CONSTANT. Before I left Italy my two childhood best friends and I promised each other to meet ourselves in 15 years somewhere in the world to celebrate our friendship and see if we accomplished our goals. At the time I was totally into screenwriting so my goal was to work in that industry. Now, one year later, I don’t think that’s what I want to do. I change my mind so easily that people lost track of what I want to do. My mom always asks me if I made up my mind. I always change the subject because I don’t know. One thing that I promised myself at the start of 2017 was to stop worrying about the future. Stop overthinking about where I will be in one year and live the moment. I have to enjoy this year, then I’ll see. I’m basically a MESS sometimes but it’s ok. I’ve always felt comfortable in my own messy world that, to me, is not messy at all.

I’m also a THINKER and sometimes an OVERTHINKER. Since I was a kid I have always been the kid with the head in the clouds. I started to write stories on my mom’s computer when I was young. It was my moment to unleash all my thoughts. I always felt like writing helped me not to lose my mind. I’m a KEEPER, not in the sense that I love to collect things. No, I’m a keeper in the sense that I don’t share my problems with everyone. I keep them for myself. Keeping all inside my mind without sharing can be dangerous, that’s why I started writing. Release my problems on paper always helped me to figure out the problem without bothering people. Ok, sometimes it is not the best technique ever.

I’m a POSITIVE person that loves to see the bright side of life. I learned to fall but I’ve always stood up again. Being positive helped me against my fears.

Since I’m in the States I always introduce myself with: “hi, I’m Elena and I’m ITALIAN”. It helps me remember where I’m from. I truly believe that where we are from makes us, us. It shapes us in a  way that few things can.

I’m a TRAVELER. If I could I would travel forever and be TRILINGUAL helped me so much. It wasn’t something that I planned but I ended up speaking two more languages besides Italian. It opened my mind, it keeps my mind always trained and it makes me feel like a superhuman in my little.

That’s me. A bunch of adjectives under the name ELENA.

When I finished I looked at what I wrote. How did I end up thinking that I didn’t know myself to write three pages full of adjectives about my personality? I was seriously surprised and every time I read it I feel like, mostly at the beginning, I made clear who I really am. The power of Svadhayaya is amazing and surprising. If you are reading this post and you’ve never done a Svadhyaya I deeply recommend you to do it. Look inside yourself. You are the only one who truly knows you.

NAMASTE.

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Let’s begin

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Hi, my name is Elena and it’s a couple of years that I struggle to practice yoga.

I know, it sounds like an Alcoholics Anonymous introduction but I feel a little bit of regret and shame in it. Since I moved to the States I decided that I wanted to make my life healthier. I lost weight in the first months that I moved here and then I started to practice yoga at home. I think I made it thru a couple of weeks, then I stopped. Why? Because I’m not a dedicated person. I tend to lose track easily of what I want to do. My mind wanders and my laziness wins. So, my 2017 resolution was to be more dedicated in general, most of all with yoga. My opportunity came when I was looking to enroll in some classes at the local college. I’m an au pair and our visa allows (and force us) to take 6 credits at the university to complete our year. When a “Beginners Yoga” class appeared on the page in front of me I almost jumped on my bed for the excitement. The description said:

“This course introduces the practice of yoga. It explores the philosophy that underlies yoga as a means of stress management, fitness, and conditioning. Designed for beginners, the course teaches gentle movements, yoga poses, breathing techniques and meditations that relax both the mind and the body”.

I had no doubt. I enrolled in that class the second after.

The class started January 18, 2017. Even if we didn’t roll down our mats and bend ourselves in weird poses since the first meetings I felt like I chose the right class. The teacher wanted us to know better each other so she asked us two questions that we had to answer in front of a person that we had never spoken with. The aim of the “game” was to make us comfortable in a space and in an environment that we didn’t know. One of the thing that stopped me to show up at a yoga class was that I didn’t know anything about yoga. I’m not that much flexible and I was afraid that I would have been judged by the other people. Talking and understanding the people in the class helped me to not feel embarrassed about myself.

It’s almost a month that I attend the yoga class twice a week for 50 minutes. I feel like something has changed in me. I feel like I’m more proactive. When I’m at home I stretch and even without my mat, I try to do some poses that we did in class. I opened this blog because I wanted a personal space to track my progress. I wanted to make yoga a habit since years and now that I found this beginner class I feel like I have no excuse to not be persistent with my practice. Let’s see if sharing my experience will commit me even more in the yoga practice.

NAMASTE.