It’s Not You, It’s Your Body – What Some Yoga Teachers Won’t Tell You

When I first started to do yoga, using CDs that I purchased on Amazon.com, I remember seeing headstand and thinking, I will NEVER be able to do that. And then I kept going, and I went to yoga classes, and I heard/read that if I kept practicing, any yoga pose was possible. And within a year, I was doing headstand. It was true!

Fast forward 15 years and I still cannot do Utthita Parsva Hastasana (among a myriad of other poses) with a straight leg, like this:

Image from Yoga Journal

Is it because I haven’t tried? Because I’m lazy? I didn’t practice enough? Nope. It’s anatomy. Think about all of the parts of the body involved in this pose. In terms of musculature, we have all of this:

Image from Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff

And, that doesn’t even include the bone and joint activity involved in the hip! Yoga poses often include stretching of muscles, but they also include compression. Stretching can be gradually and slowly impacted with regular practice, but compression (or bone on bone movement) will not change without serious injury. This article, by Esther Ekhart, does a good job of discussing this difference – https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/anatomy/tension-versus-compression-in-yoga.

While regular practice of this pose gets me closer, I have generally accepted that my body is probably not going to do this without creating a whole new set of problems. The literal shape of my femur bone may be what makes this pose so challenging and that I cannot change. Check out some of the bone images from Paul Grilley at http://paulgrilley.com/bone-photos/ and you’ll see what I mean.

Similarly, you’ve probably seen some people who can easily fold forward and touch the floor and others who just cannot. Many things are involved there, but one of them is the literal length of the bones in arms and legs. You cannot change that. It’s just how your body is made.

If you are in class with a good yoga teacher, you will hear things like “don’t push past your limits,” and “your pose doesn’t have to look like someone else’s.” Your instructor might adjust you for safety or alignment, but it will be in small amounts and the teacher will never push you into a pose. If your teacher is insisting that everyone should look the same and that anyone can do X, that might not be the right teacher for you. If it’s not the teacher, but your brain, it’s time to let that go. If a pose feels stretchy in a good way, go for it. If it hurts, stop. Don’t force your body into pain. That’s not yoga, it’s just pain, and it’s certainly not ahimsa.

It’s your practice. It’s yours and yours alone. Don’t do anyone else’s or try to be anyone else. You don’t need a “yoga body.” You need the willingness to step onto a mat, come into yourself, and focus on the union of breath, body, and mind, using asana to help you with that. And that’s all you need.

Namaste!


If I Were My Child

When it comes to my children (or my spouse, close friends, family members, or even my pets), I have some pretty strong ideas about how I want them to be treated, how they should treat and care for themselves, and how ultimately valuable, beautiful, and wonderful they are. I will get right up on my mother-tiger high-horse with exclamations of, “you don’t deserve to be treated like that,” “you should have better,” “you need to stand up for your rights,” and so on.

For better or worse, it seems to be more difficult to apply the same standards to myself.  When I have the sense that I’m being treated poorly, taken advantage of, etc. (even by myself), my first response is to assume that I somehow deserve it, or that it’s not really as big of a problem as I’m making it, or that I have unreasonable expectations.  What’s up with that? And then, I drive the people that I am very close to crazy by whining and complaining about how I’m being treated (or treating myself) instead of doing anything about it.

So, I’m working from a new strategy.  When I start to feel like I’m being disrespected or mistreated in a way that is not acceptable, I’m trying to sit down and really examine the situation from the perspective of a parent.  I ask myself, “If that was my child, what would I think about her being treated that way?  What would I tell her to do about it?

It’s a new project, so I’m going to have to let you know how it works.  Maybe it will be a dismal failure.  But, maybe it won’t.  Ultimately, I want those I love to be treated with kindness, dignity, and respect, even by me.  It’s not too much to want for myself.

Knowing When Your Body Needs a Day

I’ve written about this before (here, for example), but I think it’s a topic worth coming back to.  I know that I continue to struggle with it on a daily basis, and judging from things like this post from my wonderful Ironwoman friend Maria, I’m not alone.

Photo: ButterflySha

Sometimes, it’s just not easy to tell what it is your body needs.  I woke up this morning with the same stomach ache that I’ve had for almost three weeks (due to iron supplements – long story – I’ve been living on crackers and the occasional toast).  My left hip was killing me and I hadn’t slept well.  My right shoulder is also being screwy and started giving me pain as soon as I got out of bed and gravity hit.  And, for a little extra woohoo, my head hurts.  Yeah, I’m a pathetic mess.  But, here is the catch, I’m trying to go to yoga on Saturday mornings.  I used to be able to go on Friday mornings, but this semester I teach too early to do that.  Friday night is an option, but last night I had an event to attend until 11.  That leaves Saturday morning.  So, I got out the yoga clothes and went downstairs and made a cup of tea and some toast.  And then I sat down at my desk to check email and work on convincing myself to go to class.  That went on for about an hour.  And then I gave it up.  I admitted to myself that going to class was not the best choice, and that my body was in no shape to complete a full vinyasa class in any manner that would really bring me closer to peace and union.  But, I can’t lie, I was still (am still) not happy about it.  A bit later, when I napped for a short period, my dreams were full of what a horrible yogi I am.  Clearly, I still have some things to work out.

In some ways, I wonder why this respecting the needs of the body is so hard.  But, in other ways, I know.  We are taught, so early, to ignore the body.  We eat and sleep at prescribed times and not according to the body clock.  We feed the body food that has been processed so much that it is without nutrient instead of the foods it naturally needs.  We spray it with chemicals to prevent it from smelling even remotely like a human mammal body.  We push it to be a certain size because that is socially acceptable, regardless of where the body’s natural set point for size might be.  We shut the body up and shut it down in so many ways; it’s no wonder that we have trouble hearing it even when we want to.

Photo: Andrea Parrish - Geyer

My challenge is, and perhaps will always be, to practice ahimsa with my body.  To hear what my body has to say without judging it.  To take its needs and requests seriously.  To give my body a “day off” when it needs it.  And to let myself be if my body doesn’t always match up to what I want it to be and do.  As I sit here at my desk writing this post, noticing that my work schedule is going to prevent yoga on Monday and trying to avoid letting that put me back into a bad place about not going today, I know that this is likely to be a lifelong practice.  Perhaps this journey is my destination.