There is no denying it, yoga has made its debut in America. There is a yoga studio on every corner. There are hundreds of yoga classes going on every day. Everyone seems to have at least thought about trying yoga at this point, if they haven’t already been to a class. Every week there seems to be a new study or article written about yoga’s health benefits and capacity to decrease stress levels and increase your emotional well-being.
This buzz is all very exciting, but doesn’t it seem like something is missing in many of our yoga classes? Perhaps it is the very heart of yoga that we have misplaced.
The physical act of yoga give us an opportunity to create a safe space within to connect to our bodies, to practice a deep breathing, and a mindfulness practice of releasing our ego. This can be hard to do in a modern day yoga class filled with pressure to twist ourselves into wild yoga-pretzel poses.
Oftentimes when we enter a class and settle onto our mats that inner voice of ego is already assessing who is in the room, reminding us to “perform” to our best ability. But what if there is no perfect form of a pose?
What if your only job in yoga is to move through each pose with loving kindness towards your body and where you are at that moment?
I have though a lot about this sentiment over the years. Today I was practicing next to a woman who would squeeze herself into the perfect yogi pretzel but clearly couldn’t breathe to her full capacity in any pose. I have completely been that person.
One opportunity of yoga is to create space within in order to work through our own ego on the mat so we can live a more fulfilling life off that mat. Ego is that part of our mind that thinks we should be doing a pose a certain way in order to look good externally, or be good internally. It is that part of our mind that compares our bodies and lives with others. Hint: when we are looking for validation, usually ego!
When I first returned to yoga in 2012, I overextended myself and hurt myself… a lot. My ego said that I had to do a handstand even though my body wasn’t yet strong enough to hold myself in the pose. I practiced gymnastics when I was a little girls o my body could remember the pose, but my adult body was simply not equipped to handle this movement.
One particular day in a yoga class in Santa Monica, a teacher pushed me way past the point that I felt comfortable in a pose. I felt surprised, powerless, and disempowered. It occurred to me that maybe I do know my body better than a fitness instructor (duh!!), or anyone for that matter, no matter how much professional training they have accrued. This is true in my profession, too!
You know you best, you are your best teacher. End of story. Embodying this and leaning into the discomfort of deepening your relationship with yourself is the heart of yoga.
From that day onward, I promised myself that I would only do yoga if it meant that I further connected and honored my physical and emotional body.
Finding a movement practice that gives you space and opportunity to connect with your body in a way that feels empowering to you is an important act of self care for everyone. If you have experienced sexual trauma and/or abuse it is even more important that you develop a gentle, loving practice of movement as a part of your self care routine. In moving in this gentle way you can begin to change your inner dialogue and relationship with your physical body. It is also equally important you find a yoga teacher that respects and honors your knowledge and journey towards your relationship with your body.
Through the lens of wanting to deepen my relationship with my physical body, I realized that I needed to slow way down and focus on gentle, restorative poses. Which I did, and it completely transformed my practice. I also attended a restorative yoga teacher’s training in early 2015 which was empowering and really helped me understand what my body needs in order to open, stretch, relax, and renew. It also helped me understand how to use props to support my clients in their own healing journeys.
This is why I always recommend a slower paced yoga class for my clients, whether you have been doing yoga for a long time or just beginning to explore movement.
If you are already very familiar with physical yoga, perhaps take some time and only do the most “basic” poses, asking yourself: Have I really familiarized myself with my body in this pose? Can I actually deeply breathe in this pose? In my experience it can be hard to even ask myself these questions in a fast paced flow class, so maybe try it out in a gentle, yin, or a restorative class.
This could also mean backing out of a pose, doing a moderation of a pose, or using a ton of props (At a minimum, you will find me with a bolster, two blocks, and three blankets next to my mat).
It means that every time we move our body, asking ourselves, how am I honoring my body through this movement? Am I treating myself with loving-kindness?
The physical act of yoga is an incredible opportunity to deepen our relationship with our body. At least it has been for me. It is also a really good opportunity to practice deep breathing and the mindfulness practice of noticing that we are lost in ego and then bringing ourselves back to the present moment with loving kindness and beginning fresh, and beginning again.