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!


Life Takes Over!

So, dear readers, as you can tell, I have fallen WAY behind. This is a factor of a change in jobs last summer that keeps me even busier (didn’t think it was possible), living away from my family 4+ days a week (so not cooking), and sheer exhaustion.

However, I have been fairly active on Instagram and Twitter, so if you aren’t already following me there, you can (TheVeganAsana on both).

In yoga news, I’m still trying to practice 5-6 days a week, though often for a somewhat shorter time period. I struggled with trying to move my practice to mornings and it wasn’t very successful. RA presents obstacles there. So, it’s evening practice either alone or with an online video. Lately, I’ve been using videos from Fightmaster Yoga, though I’m always happy to hear about your favorites!

In food news, I’m not doing much cooking, but have been mostly eating salads, as that’s an easy meal for just me. But, I will put in a plug for a Philadelphia restaurant that I am loving to visit when I can. If you have not been to The Tasty, and you are a vegan in Philly, you should go!  It’s not the place to drop by if you are looking for a super nutritious meal, but if you want diner style comfort food that is vegan, it rocks. And the coffees are superb.

In life news, I’m using my paper planner (Filofax) as a creative outlet, by combining elements of bullet journaling and planning. Sometimes, I wonder if the pages are a little too cute for using in the office. Other times, I don’t care even a little.   This week, with only part of the Monday stuff added…  If you enjoy planner or bujo layouts, those tend to show up with some frequency on my Instagram feed.

I’m hoping that I can remember to post more, and that my author friend – Emmeline – will also post now and then. But, until next time, namaste!

 

 

Yoga from the Third Eye Chakra: Or Trusting My Intuition

third-eye-chakraAs you have probably noticed, things have been pretty quiet around here. Over the last year, I was enmeshed in several projects on the work and home fronts that slowed down my blogging and refocused my attention. In the month of June, I spent a lot of time packing and preparing to end a job at a place I had worked for 18 years. And then on July 1, I started a new position that involves working away from home for much of the week. This has cut down on my cooking and, when I do cook (I batch cook on the weekends), I’m in a hurry to get it all done and don’t take pretty pictures. Eventually, I’ll probably post my batch cooking plans, but for now it’s been a bit of a drought of blogging.

To be honest, I don’t anticipate the blogging rate picking up much while I’m getting into the swing of a new job, but I thought I would share a little bit about where I am with my yoga practice at the moment.

With several health issues, including a major surgery, a severe infection (related to the major surgery), a fall down a flight of stairs resulting in a broken tailbone, and a plethora of RA flares, my practice really waned in the last two years. It never completely left, but it wasn’t very present either. As I relocated, and had a little space with no one in it but me and a cat, the possibility of leaving a yoga mat front and center at all times seemed to make it more possible to get in a regular practice.

Five plus weeks later, I find myself practicing at least 5 days a week, sometimes more, for at least 40 minutes a day. Whee! I started out doing a very traditional vinyasa/ashtanga surya namaskara a & b pattern, followed by a planned set of poses that I had often used in my vinyasa classes or been led through in classes I attended. After a week or so of this, I gradually let go more of that pattern and began to really tune in to what my body needed in any particular moment.

At this point, I’m calling this “intuition yoga” when I think about it. If I get on the mat and I need sun salutations to warm up the muscles and get the joints lubricated, that’s what I do. But, if my joints are very painful, I’ll opt for an easier flow followed by more static poses. If the front of my body feels really tight, I focus on opening it up. If I’ve accidentally slept on my back and wake up with horrible tailbone pain, I do very gradual standing forward folds that take the muscles surrounding that area to the edge and stretch them gently, but never move beyond. Because of the sacral pain, I’m rarely doing seated folds, even the ones I enjoy (like janu sirsasana) because I know my body will pay me back for that momentary pleasure with hours of spasms.

Doing yoga this way is working well for me right now. I have seen my practice change so much in the last 8+ years of serious yoga focus that I know it will likely shift again, but if feels good to know where I am and what is working for me and notice the positive impacts on my body and mind as I move through my day.

Do you follow your intuition in your practice, or are you more of a “by the book” kind of yogi right now?