achievement, advancing, Awareness, bakasana, Injuries, progression, Road to Nowhere, Talking Heads, Yoga, yoga teaching
Just how attached to your yoga practice, or any other practice (like art, writing etc) are you, anyway?
This is the question I’ve been facing up to lately, in the wake of my ongoing physical injuries and ill health.
Right now in my yoga practice I can’t do everything I normally would. I can’t stand on one leg, or even put too much pressure or weight onto my right leg. Heck, I’m still Ms Limpy and dealing with the strain my injury places on the rest of my body. It sucks.
Fortunately for me, the style of yoga I’m doing right now is more concerned with the gathering of energy in the body and working the kinks out of the most compressed parts of our spine, than it is with “stretching” or “getting a good workout”.
That doesn’t mean the practice isn’t a sweaty or intense one, because it can be. There’s a lot of focus on the body’s natural movement without pulling or swinging or using force to get into various poses.
My teacher (who knows what’s going on with my health and injuries) is constantly telling me to do less, be softer, and right now… to do an “appropriate” practice.
This is VERY challenging because my ego still wants to do more!
My teacher insists that I only do with the left side of my body what the right side can do. For the balance. So most of my standing postures are extremely limited and I’m trying to be okay with that and keep my frustrations in check. (There’s a small victory for my ego though, when we get to arm balance poses like bakasana – heehee!)
Of course, this is quite ironic. I often tell my own yoga students things like this:
When doing simpler movements that your mind doesn’t have to concentrate on very much, don’t start doing your shopping list in your head! These poses are just as beneficial as something you find more challenging, but they present an opportunity to learn to keep your mind with your body. So focus on your breathing. Look at your body and what it’s doing. Pay attention to the minutiae. Inhabit yourself.
Teacher, take your own advice, right? Also, the words of my beloved teacher sound off in my mind: Work right where you’re at.
I remember hating that advice the first time I heard it…
So when my ego takes off on one of it’s BUT I WANT TO DO MORE riffs, I chuckle and remind myself to inhabit my body and the work that it’s doing right now, and NOT what it could do before or what it will do once I’m healed.
Of course even reminding myself like this, it’s still hard to let go of wanting MORE because our society worships at the altar of BIGGER. BETTER. NOW.
Just the other day my sister sent a photo of my four year old niece holding up a piece of paper with her name written in squiggly hand-writing. She was all Cheshire-cat grins because she can now write her own name! Actually, she’s been able to do it for a little while now, but has only just recently learned how to write “Y” the correct way up. Hehe.
While I adore the photo and the happiness on my niece’s face, it occurred to me that all of this celebration of achievement just sets us up for feeling terrible when we can’t or don’t achieve something we really want.
It also drew my attention to the fact that we tend to praise growth, advancement, development. We cheer on babies and children for walking and talking etc, we get all proud when people excel at their schooling and we high five ourselves when we can suddenly do a yoga pose we’ve been working on for ages. We deify our sporting heroes and Olympic athletes. Being the best is considered to be all-important, right?
Advancing is what counts – someone wrote this to me recently on Twitter. I beg to differ because really, what is “advancing” anyway?
Don’t get me wrong – enjoying progression isn’t a bad thing, as long as it isn’t our central/only focus. As long as it doesn’t stop us from enjoying other things, like a simpler yoga practice for example.
To expand: for every person who masters a new yoga pose and gets a hit of pride for what they can now do, there’s someone else who finds that years of practice have NOT made them more flexible. And in the face of our celebration of achievement, this can make a person feel like crap.
But what’s important here? Encouraging a student to keep going? Telling them their flexibility will come eventually (which might or might not be true)? Or helping them understand that yoga/life isn’t all about being the bendiest person in the room?
Yoga teachers – what are we saying when we give compliments for doing poses well? Do we balance that with information that can help less physically able students to feel like yoga isn’t a waste of their time?
There’s much to be learned by doing less.
Right now when I stop berating myself for not being able to do everything, I notice that I’m fine-tuning the small details of my practice. Like strengthening my lower back, checking what my knees are up to, and relaxing the tension from my shoulders. I’m learning to concentrate on the small details of moving my body in a way that my “normal” practice – with its focus on “achieving” – often glosses over. My awareness of what I’m doing is increasing.
So chill the heck out everyone (including myself)! Where are we trying to get to with all this achievement, anyway?
We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride
Rachel @ Suburban Yogini said:
It took me many years to realise this but my health and skeletal issues actually makes me a more empathetic teacher. My students love it when I “can’t do stuff”!! Also because my practice mostly travels a long slow path to flexibility and strength I can help my students realise that they are making huge progress along their path every day.
Like I say though, it took me years to realise that…
it’s a process. at this stage of the game, in yoga teaching and life, I have no interest whatsoever in mastering a new “advanced” pose. in fact, the thought of that is stultifyingly boring. and you know your own answer: yoga is not about being the bendiest person in the room, it’s about strength of heart and mind.
few years back I went through a health thing where the ER dr. (who was an idiot) told me my intestine was twisted up. then the nurse came into my room and started talking about colostomies! I freaked! my entire identity was wrapped up into being a “yoga teacher.” I thought, OMG, what if I can’t teach anymore! then I remembered a story I read about a teacher who was in a horrific car accident where she rolled down a cliff in her car, she ended up paralyzed, was in a wheelchair.
When she recovered, she still taught. She demoed nothing. She couldn’t! Her teaching was in her words. THAT’S a true yoga teacher. I took inspiration from her story.
My students certainly don’t stay with me because we’re learning new poses or doing “advanced” ones. I presume they stay for deeper reasons…but you’d have to ask them about that….;)
be patient….remember that all things are temporary and changing!
“Telling them their flexibility will come eventually….”
yes, I’ve said that. and I’ve also said “or not.” I tell them it’s more important how they react to their INflexibility than their actual flexibility. which one is liberating, in the long run? I tell them it is much more beneficial in life to have an inflexible body with a flexible mind, than the other way around.
Excellent point. In my classes I always emphasize attitude rather than physical accomplishment. For example in Warrior it will be about feeling courageous and beautiful; in a sitting forward bend it will be about surrendering ourselves completely; etc.
Granted, it’s kundalini yoga that I teach; there aren’t too many physically “advanced” postures, it’s more about the breath and energy and mental stamina.
But focusing on attitude vs. physical accomplishment can be applied to any style of yoga. It’s what makes the practice truly transformative, in my opinion: you use the asanas to practice finding attitudes inside you that you can then use in your daily life. For example, if you practice being a courageous Warrior over and over again, then you can call on the feeling of that in situations in your life where you need to be brave.
Y is for Yogini said:
Hmmm…my practice and I have a hot-and-heavy then hey-where-are-you relationship. It’s a busy bee type-A thing. In other words, I should probably slow the f*ck down, just not sure how. 😉 That said, I’m picking up a few gems from you, as always.