Since Yoga Kula opened five years ago, seeing and sharing our students’ yoga journeys has been one of the greatest pleasures. We love being part of their experiences, lessons and yoga stories. Here, one of our students shares her own yoga journey with us. You can follow Beliz’s journey on instagram @the_yorkshire_yogi.

When I was at school I was never one of those kids throwing out cartwheels and handstands like they were as easy as walking. I never did anything like that due to pure fear. Fear of hurting myself, fear of looking stupid, fear of not being able to do it before I had even tried… So, I used to just turn my back on those kids and stick my nose in a book instead because that was much safer. I couldn’t break my neck reading a book, after all.

In fact, I avoided anything that made me feel inadequate or lacking. Be that in relationships, academically or in sports. I took criticism very personally, not just from others but from myself also. So why do the things that I wasn’t good at? Stick to what I know and I will be safe, that was my mantra. I seemed to see the world differently to everyone else. It wasn’t a world full of opportunity and fun, it was scary and hard, and people were mean. Even when I was very young I couldn’t understand how everyone was so… free! How were they not trapped by the same fear as myself?

Despite all this, through the years, I have tried my hand at a bunch of different activities: running, HIIT, skipping (I swear that is a sport in its own right), weights, Pilates, reformer Pilates, netball, swimming, group aerobics, boxercise… I even tried out having a personal trainer for like, a day! And guess what? I hated all of it. Every minute spent in any of those pursuits generated resentment in myself, because I simply couldn’t do the stuff that was being asked of me. I was always the worst person in the class. I hated being out of breath, I hated sweating, I hated competitive sport. I hated it all.

You get the picture. The reality is, it is really hard to keep something up if you hate it. It sounds simple, but it is something I have learnt. Be that diets, a book you are reading or a relationship you are in. This is not just exclusive to ‘sports.’

So, how did I come to settle on yoga? In all honesty, I don’t know if I would have stuck to it if it wasn’t for Yoga Kula (and I am not being paid to say that, yogi’s promise). But, my first reason for going was for someone close to me who was suffering from anxiety. I had read online that yoga is supposed to help with anxiety, stress, wellbeing and so on and thought that it would be a good way to get them out of the house, though I was a bit sceptical of all the mumbo jumbo wellbeing aspect – it all sounded a bit hippyish to me.

After searching for places in her area that would do private classes, I settled on a studio that has now turned out to be my second home – Yoga Kula. And so, with my insistence, me, my mum and my boyfriend went to our first 3-to-1 class. And it was… FUN!

I cannot express to you how wonderful that first class felt. We had a kind and caring teacher who was there to guide us gently through a series of what felt like contortions at the time. But there was no pressure, no competition and I can honestly say that it was the first time in as long as I can remember that I forgot about the world outside of that little room and the worries it contained.

Maybe we were lucky to have such a wonderful guide to take us through those first months of our yoga journey in such a welcoming environment (if you know Clare Kerrigan then you will be able to understand how our love affair with yoga was made all the easier), but whatever it was I knew as I lay there in my first savasana that I had connected to a part of who I was that I didn’t know existed. A part of myself that was capable of facing challenge and overcoming it. It sounds drastic, but I tell you what, for someone with my lack of athletic background, managing to get myself into something that resembles a downward facing dog – regardless of wrists aching, knees bending and hamstrings screaming – empowered me somehow.

I was starting to realise that I had a body that’s capable of doing more than I ever thought, and a mind that is so powerful that it could either hinder or help me. But, most importantly, in that very first class I learnt something more significant than all of that. I learnt to be kind to myself. To be patient with myself. To not take myself too seriously, and to just allow myself to be where I was in that moment. Or, as my current teacher (or as I like to call her, my Guru) Julia Knight always says, I was learning that I was “perfect just the way I was.”

You can imagine, having a glimpse of all that in just one hour was almost liberating. I could suddenly see how people were so dedicated to different things in their lives like music, running, singing, even working. Because if they got from those things what I felt in that class it was no wonder really. So, I decided there and then that I would stick with this and just see where it took me.

I mean, the feeling that the yoga invoked in me didn’t last that long. The next day I was back to feeling stressed, wanting a holiday, bickering and being generally underwhelmed with life. But what did start to happen was that each week, at Kula, on that one day where we had that one hour of yoga, none of it seemed so bad anymore, so important. And through the repetition of going again, and again, and again that feeling began to be reinforced in me. Hence, two years on, I now do yoga nearly every day, both at Kula and at home – you could say I’m an addict.

I learnt very quickly that yoga isn’t a comfortable practice or an easy alternative to other forms of wellbeing and fitness. It all aches, pulls, stretches so uncomfortably, and finding my edge has been very easy because I have been so inflexible, weak and scared. Every single asana was just impossible in my first year of yoga! You want me to do what with my thighs in a downward dog? How the heck did you just ‘bring your foot through to the front?’ Chair pose!?!? You have to be kidding me right? I nearly walked out of one of one teacher’s class when she explained that I could just come out of a pose if it was hurting my knees – how could she not make this pose accessible to me!  Turns out, Catharine is one of my favourite restorative teachers EVER, and I have learnt that she was absolutely right, and that I should not go into a pose that causes my knees pain!

My point is, yoga asanas are HARD. For a normal, non-athletic, none-flexible, unconfident human, the journey begins the moment you try and sit with your ankles crossed and your knees facing down. Yoga has made me confront all my hang-ups and perceived realities I have had about my body and myself. The struggle is real. But it is that exact struggle that is going to change you.

One teacher once said to us: ‘You cannot hide from yourself when you are on your mat. Who you are here, is who you are out there. Take this as an opportunity to make yourself a better person. I don’t care what you did yesterday, be it good or bad. All I care about is who you chose to be today.’

Those words have stuck with me ever since I heard them. And she was right. There is no hiding. You must confront your weaknesses, accept them, and work with them slowly to overcome them. And isn’t that just the most amazing life lesson? It is one that I am still learning (one that I will probably always be learning), but for the first time in my life I am willing, and that is what matters most of all.

I believe I, and many others that come to Yoga Kula, have been so lucky to have a place that is so welcoming and supportive to guide us through this journey. I have had unforgettable experiences and made wonderful memories with the people here through classes, retreats, workshops and the community it has built. I mean, if anybody reading this knew me before I started coming to Kula I am sure they will be just as surprised as I am that they got me touching my toes, surfing and handstanding – a far off cry from the scared girl I used to be!