I learned a long time ago to never judge a client’s physical ability based on appearance. This lesson first smacked me in the face when I was a group fitness instructor. I was training in a new format and I met a group of ladies who were older than myself (I was a whole 25 at the times, so it wasn’t hard to be older than me). I assumed that I would be a stand out in the training because I was younger, and presumably, in better shape than these ladies. NOPE. They crushed it and I was dragging ass. They were powerful and awesome. Lesson learned.
I have tried to keep that lesson with me in my Yoga teaching. I try to never judge what level a client might be at physically. That means I typically teach with a “try it and see what happens” approach. Sometimes a client might surprise themself and get into a pose they hadn’t before. Sometimes they learn about a limitation in their body.
My body has plenty of limitations. I am not the most flexible yogi on Instagram. I remember being in a Yoga class learning lizard pose and thinking, “Never in my life will I be able to come down to my forearms here.” I was wrong about that but it took me YEARS of practice to get those forearms down. My straddle fold is miserable. Most things that require mobility in the hips are a struggle for me. What I have learned is that years and years of horseback riding, accompanied with middle and high school athletics, have made my hips strong but tight.
Now, certain things come easily in my body. I have long limbs and a long torso. Twisting poses come a little more naturally because I have length in my middle to wring out. Eagle pose comes to mind as one that is fairly easy in my body because wrapping long limbs is a simpler task than wrapping shorter ones. I am aware of how my build influences my practice and I try to balance the poses that work naturally for me with those that challenge me.
Yesterday, I was teaching a workshop on crow pose. The only way I know to come at my teaching is to share what I have learned, what has worked for me, and my own understanding of the practice. This meant that the first form of crow I taught was the “baby” version of the pose on the forearms. This pose came easier to me than the full arm balance. It dawned on me yesterday that this variation comes easier to me because I have long arms and because my hips are built wider than my shoulders. So the action of bringing my knees high on my arms and squeezing my in, while coming down onto my forearms for balance, all worked in my body. This was not the case for many folks in the workshop. They found this pose to be much more difficult than trying to balance on the hands. Luckily, I had other tips and tricks to teach but it was not the aha moment I planned.
I believe that if you want to make a pose happen in your body, you can. It might take years of dedicated practice and you have think about whether the work is worth the benefits. But when we come up against our limitations, or when we recognize where we excel, we are practicing Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya is one of the Niyamas and it is the practice of self-study or inner exploration. When you look at why a pose might come naturally to you it can reveal things about your true nature. I am a fairly grounded and steady person therefore I naturally favor standing balance postures. When you find a limitation you can understand where in your life you might need work. I struggle with accepting my shape, particularly that of my hips, and don’t embrace my feminine side. Therefore in poses where hip mobility and channeling the feminine come into play, I suffer.
Our bodies are one of the greatest teachers we will ever have. They are a compilation of our choices and a direct result of the lives we lead. If we take the time to go deeper into what we experience in a pose, we can learn so much about our true selves.