The Journey of Yoga
Part 1 – The Body
But I’m not flexible!
I can’t do that pose? I don’t look like that when I try that pose. I’ll never be able to do that pose! Have you ever heard or thought this? You are not alone.
Yoga is not a one size fits all. We don’t have to look, bend, and move in the same way as someone else.
It’s not about being able to touch your head to your knee or get yourself into some crazy pretzel position. Although I will admit I am in awe of those that can. But it is definitely not something my body can do. And I’m ok with that.
Yoga is about finding balance and unity in yourself and your life: body, mind, and soul.
Yoga is not about the pose…It’s about the journey.
In yoga philosophy, we have the Yamas and Niyamas. Ten tenets or guidelines of how to live a full and purposeful life. There are five Yamas and five Niyamas. The first Yama, Ahimsa is non-violence or non-harming. It refers to living a life that causes no harm to others or to self.
When we look at our body, we can look to Ahimsa and the thought of doing no harm to ourselves.
Our body is an amazing vessel that allows us to do so much. Unfortunately we have been taught to push harder and no pain, no gain. Which might sound good. After all, we workout to improve endurance, increase muscle, and look and feel better. So we expect to be a little sore after a vigorous workout as our muscles adjust to new movements. But soreness and pain are two different things.
Yoga poses should never cause pain or hurt your body.
Remember Ahimsa, do no harm.
Our bodies give off signals all the time that tell us how we’re feeling. Some days it’s telling us we’ve got this, we’re full of energy and we totally crush that power yoga class. Other times it’s saying, nah, we need a little break and it’s time to slow it down.
There are subtle little things it tells us that sometimes we tend to ignore. A twinge here, a crack there. When those twinges get louder, we need to pay attention to what our body is telling us. I am not a doctor and I can’t claim to know what is good for your body. I don’t know your injuries or any info about you so please use your own experience to understand and do what is right for your body.
Many years ago, I was a total gym rat. You know, the person who went five or six days a week, went to yoga classes at least two to three times a week, and did workouts at home. I was recently divorced and pushing myself to get back in shape and focus on me. Let’s just say I was rocking that bikini at forty years old!
But my body was continuously protesting the heavy workouts and my low back started screaming louder and louder the harder I pushed until one day I woke up, curled up in a fetal position, unable to move. My low back had spasmed and I was in excruciating pain. I finally had to listen to what my body was telling me. I had to learn to “work smarter, not harder.” And that meant I had to take the time to learn what was good for me.
In yoga, we want to move and flow in a way that is good for our bodies. Have you ever heard a teacher say, “Do what’s right for your body today?” or “Do what feels good.” We say this because we want you as our student to do what you can and not injure yourself.
You shouldn’t make your body fit the pose but fit the pose to your unique body.
Don’t worry about how you think the pose should look. Instead focus on how your body reacts to the pose. Notice if it doesn’t feel right, or there is any kind of tension or pain and adjust yourself accordingly. You are the expert at your body, so listen to what it has to say to you.
If it says, “Hey yeah. Totally go for that wheel pose, or side crow.” That’s awesome! But if your body starts talking and saying, “Hey time to back it up a little. Let’s try a variation today.” Then please listen.
Variations are wonderful and give us the opportunity to try poses in a different way to find what suits us best. There are days when my back is talking a little loud so I know I need to try something different. On those days I tend to stay away from strong vinyasa flows and will move more towards a slower paced yin or restorative sequence.
Don’t be afraid to grab props in a class.
They are there for you to use and I want you to feel comfortable doing what you know is good for your body. Props help us in many ways. They help to take out the intensity of the posture and make the poses accessible and safe. A bolster gives support, a strap helps extend our reach, and blocks bring the floor to you so you don’t have to go so deep.
Remember, in yoga it’s not about bending over to touch your toes or getting into a crazy pretzel position.
Yoga is about listening to your body to find a practice that best serves you.
Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is what you learn on the way down – Jigar Gor
Here are just a few examples of how you can utilize props during your practice:
Use a block under your bum in yogi squat or in easy seated pose
Use a blanket or bolster under knees in savasana
Use a blanket under knees or between knees in supine twists
Use a strap across ball of foot in seated forward fold to be able to reach and extend more
Use a block under your hand(s) for standing poses such as forward fold or revolved triangle