‘Start from where you where’ you is the 2nd of the Yoga Club Rules. To be fair, they aren’t really rules as much as guiding principles. And ‘start where you are’ is probably a good guiding principle in this world where the pressure to be “someone” or “something”, or achieve something or go somewhere is incredibly strong, even though it may not be congruent with who we are or aspire to be.
It is very easy to feel that your aspirations are unattainable or unachievable. For some it will seem incredible to sit in meditation for 5 minutes, let alone more. For others, they will see the yoga that I call the “twisty, bendy, upside down stuff” and they will run a mile from it – thinking if that is “yoga” they’d be better of somewhere else or doing something else. And this running from the twisty bendy stuff is as much a thing for yogis who’ve been practicing for years, as it is for the newbies. Perhaps for different reasons. But that is for another day.
Starting from where you are is a recognition that how you are in body, breath and mind is the key to yoga. Actually, its the key to life. So the first question to ask yourself is “where am I today?”, or rather “how” am I today?
Starting a practice of any sort with a gentle relaxation and reflection where we lay down in a pose like Savasana (Corpse Pose), and we ask ourselves, ‘how are we?’ is a good starting point For some this is a return to who we are. For others it’s as if we forgot that “we” exist. For yet others, it feels like a pause in a day of busyness or mental noise. So laying there – or for some, sitting there, we find that we have a body. We tune into this body. We see how it is. We reflect on its present state. And we kindly note anything that our body is telling us to guide our practice.
Then we find we have a breath. We can tune into our breathing. We do this by observing our inhalation and exhalation. We consider what this breath tells us about our current state of mind. Perhaps we prefer to breath slower, and deeper. Perhaps we find that our state of being slows as we slow our breathing. We may find it helpful to deepen our breathing. We can visualise our breath like water filling a vase – from the bottom up, and as we exhale, similarly. We note how we feel, and how inextricably linked our body and our being is, to our breath.
And then we observe that we have a mind. We start to think about thinking. But this is more about observing the flow of our mind stuff. The thoughts and feelings that whirl around. Or perhaps, we are lucky, and don’t have this whirlwind of thoughts. When we observe our thoughts, we observe that perhaps, they are not helpful to us, and that perhaps we can reduce the number or the type of thoughts that aren’t helpful. It’s possible. So we decide to fix our mind to our breathing to help us achieve this. And slowly we find that the thoughts reduce and that we can focus, perhaps feel more relaxed, and more easy.
Starting where you are doesn’t stop while laying on the mat. In every posture and movement that we explore, we work within the boundaries of what we feel able and comfortable to do. We don’t stretch to the point of pain. We reach to the edge of our ability, but we don’t surpass it. There is time to develop our yoga asana (postures) and other practices, but for now we simply begin the process of moving in and out of the postures with ease and gentleness.
This is the essence of starting where you are. It is wedded to the yama or principle of “ahimsa”, which suggests that we are kind to ourselves . So we approach our practice with a state of compassion and gentleness and we seek a practice that is full of ease, grace and presence.
When we start from where we are, this means adopting these principles, and exploring where we go to. It’s a gentle exploration and can be beneficial to body, breath and mind. It doesn’t matter where we are when we start. What matters is that we approach the integration of body, breath and mind, with kindness and self-awareness, with ease and with grace. From there, anything is possible, and probable.