Why you should stop being intimidated by yoga

If you’re like me, chances are that yoga and yoga experts intimidate you. You know the type: perfect body, great-looking (and expensive) outfits, immaculate and colorful yoga mats, perfect form, etc. Before I became a writer and translator, I used to be a Reebok Spinning instructor, and while I felt I was in great shape, I never thought I measured up to the almost Hollywoodian standards that yoga practitioners seemed to project at the many gyms where I taught spinning. Call me insecure, but I felt that yoga was not for me; that it was only for the very top of the fitness elite.

Boy, was I wrong! My translation team has been on board with BOKS for a few years now. The project has been very fulfilling. Don’t get me wrong. I like working on all my other projects, but the projects that help improve the human condition are always the most interesting because there is always an additional personal satisfaction factor associated with helping make things better.

The first yoga texts we had to translate were very short. They were part of larger documents (like the curricula). They still required quite a bit of research because this was Terra incognita as far as our translation service was concerned. We had translated plenty of fitness related texts in the past for a number of clients (gyms and gym equipment manufacturers, for the most part), but this was the first time we worked on translating yoga terms and texts. (As an example, we could research one term for an hour, and still not have a definite, universally accepted French version for it.) We faced a few moments of panic at times because there are a lot of variations in how yoga terms are translated in the French fitness industry (both in France and in Quebec). We could talk to three different yogis, and end up with three different versions of the “official” translated term. There are efforts at uniformizing the terminology, but for many of the most complicated or advanced poses, the only reference other than English we could find at times was Sanskrit. We almost hit full panic mode when we received lengthier documents entirely devoted to yoga that needed to be translated.

So we had to dig deep and get creative with how we were going to translate some of the more complex routines. But it was my colleague, Fabienne Docquier, a veteran translator, who came up with the best solution: on top of hitting the Internet, the bookstores and calling various yogis, she began performing the yoga poses. Soon after, she started pouring out the best translated routines so far. They flowed, almost organically, which is the only (or best) way yoga routines should read. So I started doing the routines myself. I got a mat, some blocks, put on my old Reebok cycling gear and hit the floor. And I found out that I LOVED IT!

The main deliverable, of course, was a better understanding not only of the poses but of the philosophy of yoga. As translators, we like to bone up on anything we work with – especially when it’s a long-term project. It’s important to keep bettering ourselves to improve the quality of our work and our understanding of the source material. I was still too intimidated by yoga practitioners to actually takes classes, however. So, I started following online classes. (I have to admit though, I almost caved in to the urge to attend a yoga class given in a park by the lake in Hudson [Quebec]; the idyllic setting alone was enough to sell me on the idea.)

One of the first things I learned from joining that online class was that the yoga community is moving away from the idea of a “perfect” pose. To quote yoga teacher Adriene Mishler (who teaches the yoga classes I’ve been following on YouTube), “focus on the sensation over the shape. We’re definitely shifting the role of yoga now to understand that if we’re all going to learn yoga, we are all going to learn to do it in our body, not trying to do what someone else is doing in their bodies.” That’s great advice. And BOKS gives people a chance to learn yoga in that non-intimidating way – not just the kids attending the sessions, but also the teachers, parents, volunteers and anyone else associated with the program who hasn’t discovered yoga yet.

Since then, I have been concentrating on feeling good when I do yoga. My first few attempts were awkward, to say the least. But it’s important to see those pictures of expert yoga practitioners pretty much the same way we should look at pictures of models in fashion magazines… i.e., as idealized, “perfect” examples for demonstration purposes only. It’s not a matter of being unable to push yourself to a state of perfection. It’s really about bettering yourself.

Yoga should really be seen as any other non-competitive fitness practice. It’s not about the clothes; it’s not about the gear; it’s not about zero-fat bodies, and it’s certainly not about perfect poses, because I haven’t attained – or even reached for – any of these objectives since I picked up yoga. However, I have gained a lot from my practice. Here are some of the benefits I have obtained from yoga:

• no more back pain;
• no more knee pain;
• vastly improved flexibility;
• improved physical strength;
• improved concentration;
• improved posture at work, which is very useful when I need to spend 10 hours at my desk to meet a BOKS translation deadline 🙂 and
• I discovered mindfulness. I think no one should go through life without this Zen-like feeling of peace and “being there.”

I still can’t perform a perfect downward dog, but I don’t care – it’s no longer what I am aiming for – and more importantly, attaining perfect form no longer intimidates me.

I also started doing limited flow yoga, which totally surprised me because I would never in a million years have thought I could do that. I like to flow from various poses, including moving from Cat/Cow to Child’s Pose and then Downward Dog. I also quite enjoy flowing from Warrior One to Warrior Two and then on to High Lunge and finally Mountain Pose. It’s basic stuff, but considering how far I’ve come, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. My advice to you, though, do get a mat and some blocks. It’s a minimal investment that will ensure you won’t quit because of pain in your knees or hands/fingers. It will also reduce the risk of slipping and injuring yourself. I hear that most injuries in yoga occur in the transition between poses, not while doing the poses themselves.

In conclusion, if you haven’t picked up yoga yet for any reason, you should definitely give it a try. You don’t have to look very far to find out how to start: just go through your BOKS yoga material.

Jules-Pierre Malartre

Translator for BOKS