Becky’s Yoga – Between softness and strength

Becky in Wheel pose © Unfold Your Mat, All rights reserved

Hey Becky! Thank you so much for being here and for sharing with the world your experience of yoga! Can you tell us a few words about yourself? Who is Becky?

I’m a writer, creator and activist for social change. I currently work in marketing communications in the medical device industry. Outside of work and yoga, I play video games, raise cats and houseplants, make all kinds of strange crafts and costumes, and take walks in the forest with music in my ears.

When did you start practicing yoga?  

I have practiced on and off since I was in college, maybe about 2008 or 2009. My first yoga instructor was also a teacher I had for a Jazz Theory course, strangely enough, but honestly, he was talented at both! 

Why do you do yoga?

This is a good question, and I struggle to give a full answer to it. The truth is I don’t really know, I’m just drawn back again and again. I think it is two things: The first is, I’m not a gym-person. I have always struggled to find an activity that makes me feel strong, ambitious and powerful that also didn’t feel like a competition, expecting myself to show off or achieve gains for others. I wanted only to show up for myself, to experience progress and strengthening on my own terms.

Another aspect is insight into my mental and emotional clarity. Whether my practice that day is meditative or very strength-focused, I give myself an hour or so each time to be in the moment with myself. How does this feel? Can I breathe more deeply into the pose? If I push, what happens? If I hold, what happens? My practice has given me the clarity that often the answer to reaching farther isn’t just push-push-pushing, but is release, patience, practice and breath.

Becky in bow pose © Unfold Your Mat, All rights reserved

How long have you been practicing with Unfold Your Mat?

I began with Unfold Your Mat in the spring of 2019. After moving to Sweden from the United States in 2016 it was my first time back at yoga practice.

What do you appreciate the most about Unfold Your Mat?

Lavinia at Unfold Your Mat is so welcoming to all kinds of people, and it’s a place where I can be myself, practice and achieve without feeling alienated. I love my curves and my strength – I don’t have what Instagram offers as the slim, bendy yoga-body. Lavinia always gears her instruction toward intention, challenge and the feel of the pose, rather than achieving results that may look correct from the outside each time but can harm our bodies. She gives instruction that truly welcomes people of all abilities, ages, body types. Perhaps ambitious people hear that and think, “Oh, so it’s easier,” but in my experience the instruction at Unfold Your Mat really doesn’t compromise on athleticism, strength or progress – Lavinia simply approaches the instruction in a way that is cleverly tailored to fit each student in the class.

I also love our international community at Unfold Your Mat. I’ve met so many inspiring people! We’ve even seen multiple generations of Unfold Your Mat students, as you and Kathrin wrote in the previous blog post! 😉

Becky in Upward facing dog pose © Unfold Your Mat, All rights reserved

We all have ups and downs and busy lifestyles. It requires a lot of dedication to maintain a weekly yoga practice. What motivates you to keep showing up despite the unpredictable daily life challenges we all have?

It’s actually the unpredictability of daily life that keeps me coming back. Especially in Coronavirus times, it can be difficult to distinguish one day from the next. Regular practice is the thing I can rely on – that I will make time to show up for myself day after day. When I began practicing at Unfold Your Mat, this was particularly important to me. I was going through a very emotional time, still reeling from a divorce and the loss of a relationship in which I felt like I lost myself. Dedicating time to my spirit and my body, being there for myself, continuing to move forward even when it feels impossible, all became a crucial part of my recovery. 

Which style of yoga do you enjoy more? Softer and relaxing or dynamic and sweaty? Why is that?

I tend to think I prefer the dynamic and sweaty practices because I believe the focus required by the challenge is better at getting me out of my head. Then again, when practice is soft and relaxing, I can easily surprise myself with how much I needed to just release and relax in that moment, rather than always pushing hard. A mix is probably the best approach for me.

As a beginner yogini, you did not only attend the gentle yoga classes, but to my surprise you wanted to join the sweaty ashtanga led and self-led classes. Ashtanga is my big love so I was very excited that you were so dedicated. Not many people are open to join a Mysore style Ashtanga class. Many feel this is too advanced, but you understood the message that this is custom-made practice and not showing off and competing with other people. I admire your openness, courage and your commitment to give this beautiful and challenging practice a chance. What motivated you to commit to ashtanga?

Thank you so much! I have surprised myself as well, if I’m honest. I have always seen myself as an ambitious over-achiever, but with the depressive void of losing my marriage, it was hard to regain that sense of self. Ashtanga helped me to see those qualities in myself again. The practice is challenging and advanced, but just like any other skill, you learn as you go. For me, it’s always important to approach ashtanga with a sense of curiosity and play, even when I falter or have a hard day. The rhythm of ashtanga is also encouraging for me to just try, breathe and move on. Each practice will feel different. If one pose gives me trouble, that’s OK. There’s always the next pose, the next practice.

Is ashtanga any different from hatha or vinyasa yoga?

Oh, definitely. If someone is already fairly familiar with hatha or vinyasa yoga, ashtanga is a great avenue to explore. It’s very similar in that many of the poses will likely be ones you’ve done before. Still, the rhythm and consistency of an ashtanga yoga practice brings something new. You are not always multi-tasking, trying to figure out where to put your foot or how to arch your arm, because your practices are more consistent. You build a kind of muscle memory for the flow that helps you sink deeper into the poses and really connect with them, feel each muscle working. I find with ashtanga I’ve learned more about my emotional and behavioral patterns, on top of my physical progress.

Becky in Upward Plank pose © Unfold Your Mat, All rights reserved

What do you like the most about ashtanga?

I think it takes a kind of tenacity and curiosity. The Venn diagram of hardcore video-gamers and yoga practitioners is maybe a little niche, but I tell people ashtanga is the “Dark Souls” of yoga. Both are notoriously challenging in their own worlds, but for people who play them, it just takes a certain kind of spirit. In the Dark Souls games, you learn to embrace failure, understanding how you can use each death to progress a little further, learn the lay of the land, anticipate difficult areas or gain new skills. Ashtanga is the same. Each time you fall or fail, it’s easy not to stress, because there’s always the next practice, the next life, to begin again. Each time you play through, you simply itemize your goals. This time, I want to be able to reach this thing that will help me next time. I want to get a sense of unexplored areas. I want to be able to unlock something new.

Due to the pandemic we switched to Zoom Yoga middle of March 2020 and outdoor since beginning of June. Does it feel any different than indoor classes at the studio?

It does feel different. I found helpful some of Lavinia’s hands-on adjustments that really helped to clarify tension or alignment in some areas. So, that’s missing now. But overall I think it’s remarkable how we’ve been able to maintain our community with uninterrupted practice even in these unprecedented times through innovative ways of practicing.

Becky in Camel Pose © Unfold Your Mat, All rights reserved

How is it practicing online from the comfort of your home?

It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, it can be cozy. I can play my own soft music underneath Lavinia’s instruction while my Zoom is muted, I can set the lights how I like them, I can feel at home. On the other hand, it’s a new skill to learn to practice in the space of your everyday life, stresses, and what may now have also become your workplace. And, well, I also have two cats that sometimes get very curious.

Last few months have been challenging for almost everybody. The pandemic brought so much tragedy, uncertainty and anxiety in our society. Do you feel yoga has helped in any way to navigate these difficult times?

Absolutely. Just as regular practice has helped me during my personal challenges, the stability and regularity of making time for my own wellbeing throughout the week has been crucial.

Becky in Crow Pose © Unfold Your Mat, All rights reserved

Has yoga brought anything new or of value to your life? Do you feel any differences or benefits in your daily life since you started? If so, can you give us some details? 

Another reason I have been attracted to yoga as a physical activity is because when I was a teenager I injured my knee, leaving me with arthritis before I even turned 20. Yoga has absolutely helped me to manage that daily pain and still experience rigorous exercise.

Beyond pain management, certainly I think yoga has helped me with my overall body awareness, which is something hard to describe. Just things like, the way I sit at my desk chair, or how I carry my backpack full of groceries home from the store. I used to constantly have ache and pain in my neck and shoulders from working at a desk all day, but being more aware of my body, my muscles and my spine has helped me to easily adjust the little muscles or alignments that can really make a difference.

There’s also an aspect of mental awareness and of learning how to breathe and be present. Each practice comes with meditative aspects in the beginning and end, and over time, I’ve understood better how I used to fail to take in my surroundings and simply live my whole life up in my head, with my worries and thoughts. Meditation hasn’t and won’t cure my anxiety disorder, but it has helped me get better at accepting myself for who I am each day, to be present and aware of my thoughts and emotions, and to learn to ground myself during moments of stress.

And then there’s all the physical changes that strength- and endurance-based exercise brings. In addition to the obvious or visible changes, I’m even noticing little changes in everyday life that I wouldn’t otherwise think about. Things in the house that used to be difficult to move, lift or adjust, I hardly notice anymore. Being able to reach odd places when cleaning under furniture because of better flexibility. Even if these moments aren’t always remarkable, they’re a nice reminder!

Becky in Uttita Hasta Padangusthasana © Unfold Your Mat, All rights reserved

Do you have any favorite pose (s)?

Pigeon pose! I love all the hip-openers. I also love the balancing sequence in ashtanga, even though it’s super challenging.

Squirrel pose anyone? © Unfold Your Mat, All rights reserved

Last but not least, I would like to say a big thanks for being such a nice and lovely student. You’ve been so open minded and trustful of my way of approaching the yoga practice. I am very grateful for that. I am very proud how much you’ve grown in the last year since we first met. I admire so much your dedication, commitment and the passion you put on the mat! Yoga students like you are a true gem. It’s been a true pleasure to meet you (Thank you Sky for bringing her!) and to share with you my passion for yoga and self-development. You are such an inspiration my darling. I look forward to many more days together on the yoga mat! Keep up the good work! Keep learning! Keep growing!

Thank you so much Lavi! 😊

Follow Becky on her Instgram @beckyjones.

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Join us every week on Zoom for online live yoga or outdoor classes in front of our yoga studio on Olbersgatan 12 near Skatås in Gothenburg. 13 minutes bike ride from Körsvägen.

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