When my husband reads this blog post headline he is going to give me a funny look. You know the look, the one that says, “I can’t decide if this is a joke, or if you’re being serious”. The one where he is trying to decide whether to laugh or to argue because I don’t do change well. Not at first. I need a few minutes, or hours, or days, depending on the level of change we are talking about, to process, plan, and then be ok.
But there is an area in my life where change has become a bright spot. And that’s my yoga practice. I’ve changed a lot over the years! My practice has changed, my body has changed, my teaching has changed.
I’m a constant consumer of continued education. Learning something new and then adjusting my viewpoint or modus operandi (m.o.) to reflect the new discovery. I’ve always said that yoga is the big equalizer. You can’t maintain much of an ego in yoga because you are constantly discovering new ideas, new layers of physical and spiritual practice, and bumping up against what you thought was truth, but maybe it’s not.
If you’re the guru type, this is a big problem, because gurus are supposed to have all the answers, right? So, whether you think you are the guru, or you follow one, the whole idea is, “Hey, I’ve got the right way to do this thing, to think about this thing, and all the other ways are not as right as this way! So, join this way of thinking/doing and you’ll never have to really think again, because, I’ve got it all figured out for you!”
That would be nice, really it would. I think I would be the first in line for the “real answers.” The problem is, it never works out that nicely in real life. The guru model is easy. You get into triangle pose this way and only this way. You feel it here. If you feel it somewhere else, then your pose is wrong!
I'm not your guru. And I never will be. I’ll tell you what I think, what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen, but I won’t tell you to agree with me.
This is a whole lotta words to simply the convey the truth that there is more than one way to “do yoga.” There is more than one way to get into, out of, and experience triangle pose. In fact, there is some interesting research that claims our human bodies are so adaptable that many of the traditional yoga asana cues designed to protect us are unnecessary* (unless there is pain or injury). This has resulted in some changes in the way I teach and the way I practice.
You don't have to worry so much about doing yoga correctly, instead, learn to pay attention to your body, to listen to its whispers. Oftentimes we are more intuitive than we give ourselves credit for. If you want my non guru opinion, the most important part of yoga is the breath anyway. Focus on your breath. When it gets overtaxed, pay attention to that. When it becomes difficult to breathe deeply and easily, ask yourself why. And always be willing to change your practice to fit what you find.
Ease up a bit and be less critical of yourself and of your practice. Be more critical of your Why. Why are you on your mat? I’m not suggesting there has to be a deep answer to your Why. Sometimes it’s merely a call you hear that you just have to answer.
My Whys are not impressive, and they have changed with time and practice, but they bring me back again and again. Because it makes me feel better. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Because it makes me better able to hike mountains and sleep on the ground. Because it keeps me a little closer to sanity. Peace. Inner quiet. Calm. Because decisions seem easier and clearer after I practice. Because it’s the only way I can handle change.
*I’m not suggesting that these “protections” go away or have no place in teaching, but they are not fixes, they are tools and nothing more. The studies I read about (please remember I’m not an expert, take my opinion with a grain of salt!) were looking at injury prevention in professional athletes and basically came to the conclusion that you can’t prevent injury and that many of the traditional models of joint loading looked reasonable on paper but didn’t pan out in actuality. In real life, humans are capable of loading in “unsafe” places and angles via incremental increase and if someone, for example, habitually let their knee fall inward in Warrior 2 it wasn’t automatically a danger zone and injury wouldn’t necessarily be prevented by forcing the knee to line up with the ankle. In fact, a person could theoretically strengthen the knee joint in a larger range by practicing Warrior 2 with the knee lining up with the ankle, as well as letting the knee fall in and out. But, it can also be possible that there exists an imbalance in muscle strength between the abductor and adductor muscles that could be worked on if the student was experiencing problems or pain. It all depends! The point is, there is more than one way to do Warrior 2 and still be “safe.”