When people learn I am a yoga teacher, I often hear “I’m not good at yoga” or “I wouldn’t be good at yoga.” Yoga is not an “It” which one can be good or bad at. Yoga does not discriminate based on age, gender, flexibility, injury or strength. Yoga meets you where you are. Yoga teaches you to be present and breathe. You cannot be “bad at being present”, you’re either present, or you’re not present. No good or bad. You’re either breathing, or you’re not. No good or bad. If you were bad at breathing, you’d be dead. Often one could be more present or more mindful of breath; but you can’t be “bad” at either, which means you can’t be “good”. This binary, dualistic way of viewing reality is exactly the idea yoga dispels.
I also hear students ask: “am I doing it right?”; “what should I be doing?”; or “what is it supposed to look like?”. The answer: It depends, there is no one right way. Your way, for today, depends on your intention, how your body is feeling, and if you need to stoke the fire, or cool down and rest – or both. This means the teacher can’t tell you you’re doing it right or wrong, only you can know what is right for you. Teachers are excellent guides, not commanders or drill sergeants. I’m not “telling people what to do”, I give options on what might feel useful in their body from the 10+ years of experience I have practicing yoga in my body. Ultimately, not everything that works for me will work for someone else. We are unique, each day is new for everyone, and what we need varies.
I love to share with students how each pose is an archetype, a shape, which shows up in the body differently on different days, and will certainly look different for different people. Each pose is a moment in time, a snapshot on the spectrum from one place to the next. This play between movement and stillness is the beauty of flow yoga, like a practice my partner and I have developed called Yin Chi Flow. The body is the shape, then you can inquire: Where do I place my legs, arms, hands, feet, spine, head, torso etc. to embody the shape my body will feel best in right now? What asana, meaning “seat” (intentionally placing your body parts), is going to get the desired effect I want or need?
Take Downward-Facing-Dog, for example. I love to think about what “breed” of dog I am today. If I take a “longer” stance in my downward dog, I move closer to plank position, this accentuates the work of the arms and back. If I take a “shorter” down-dog, I am closer to standing forward fold, which moves the intention of the shape into the backs of the legs. Depending on the range of motion in your body, bending the knees allows the spine to be long, a crucial element of down-dog. No matter your level of practice or years of experience, there is value in playing with the ends of the spectrum, to discover the happy medium; what Buddhism refers to as the Middle Path. It’s difficult to know where your happy-medium is if you haven’t explored the opposite ends of the spectrum, and the spectrum changes and evolves over time. This is why yoga is an ever-evolving, life-long practice!
Additionally, it is useful to be aware of our addictions and habits. If you tend to be more gung-ho, perhaps today you soften in your down dog or take a modification like puppy-pose. If your tendency is to be a little lax, step up and add some vigor to your shape to bring you out of your habit. Yoga is a great way to balance your natural constitution and life-style patterns.
For me, the joy of yoga is applying the combination of a sharp mind and an intuitive heart to discover what shows up on my mat in the moment to create and find balance today. The ego-mind loves to say “ah yes this is it, now I have the answer forever and never have to think about it”. Combining mind and intuition creates a moment by moment check-in of what is in alignment NOW, taking habits into account and thoughtfully creating harmony. If you only ever do downward dog the same way, you will get the same results, and what we need to feel alive and nourished changes every day. Please don’t let your mind rule you on what is right or wrong, on or off your mat. Embody your innate yogic wisdom, be curious and discover your happy-place in this moment!
Teaching yoga is one of the most rewarding and joyful experiences of my life. The trust I am given to create a container for others to explore their edges is an incredible gift. The unraveling of ego attachments and the exploration of the inner world is a sacred endeavor, and I am grateful to assist the journey.