This cranky yoga teacher/slash student is here to say that you need to change if you hope to improve in yoga or in life. I have been writing lately about being back on the mat taking classes again after a long hiatus. One of the problems with this, and I know it is a personal fault, is that I can’t help looking around the room at the other practitioners and I am a little freaked out by what I see.
Not always of course, and if the woman practicing next to me yesterday reads the blog she should know that she has a beautiful practice. Deep, clean, no excess effort; it was a pleasure to practice alongside of her. And I can tell by the nature of her poses that she worked long and hard to get there.
Earlier in the week I took a class in the city and afterwards the teacher suggested that I needed more external rotation in my down dog. I have received assists with a similar intention in the past month and even though I thought I had it going on, as I sit here typing this, my upper traps and assorted other muscles are downright sore because I have been working on this idea ever since.
That is always how I have built my practice—one cue at a time. And while I am well pleased with being fifty and damned well aligned if I do say so myself, I can and will name a number of things that I need work on.
My inner thighs have always been my nemesis and they remain so. In one of the classes I have taken we did a Pilates type of exercise with a block between the inner thighs and I was literally quaking. The teacher kept saying ground your big toes to the floor and while I might have been able to make my big toes touch, nothing like grounding was happening.
My latissimus dorsi (lats) don’t exist so going into poses like upward facing dog where my chest should open and expand, nothing happens. It isn’t terrible but it isn’t good.
My glutes in general but my right gluteus maximus, minimus, medius and tensor fascia latae don’t like playing the game of yoga but thanks to the fact that out of the twenty something classes I have taken in the last month only two or three haven’t done warrior three, they are starting to get involved. Because I am hyper aware of the ways I can cheat the pose or not try too hard, I have to be extra vigilant in the poses that need to change because it is easy to avoid said change.
I was showing my warrior three to my wife last weekend and she kept saying lift the leg higher. So I would, and she would say higher. And I would, and she would say higher still. It was unbelievable to me. I genuinely thought my heel was at the height of my pelvis but the brain plays tricks on us all. I need to change the way I think about where my body is in space and that is what I look to my teachers for. I tend to do what they tell me.
Back to the beginning, what I see in yoga classes that I teach and now that I take, is students that do the same thing day in and day out. Without change there will be no improvement.
I’ll just offer one example but it is a big one. Something I witness repeatedly is short standing poses that don’t/won’t commit to getting the thigh closer to parallel with the floor. This is a simple thing to work on. Either bend the knee a little more or separate the legs farther apart but work on making your standing poses deeper.
Philosophically (I always get in trouble when I talk yoga philosophy because I honestly have no clue what I am talking about so I apologize in advance) I suppose there is an opposite argument to be made—that yoga is a meditative practice and focusing on the body and improvement is all about the ego. Fair enough. There is an excellent example of this idea in the Satchitandanda translation of the yoga sutras where he talks about his classes being the same day in and day out but everyone comes back because it is the idea of simply practicing over a long period of time that brings the yoga to life, and I buy that.
But, I am also, and mostly, here to build a better body to help me age gracefully. While that might be shallow on one level it serves me well. Everyone should make their yoga practice whatever they want it to be but change is a beautiful thing. And I firmly believe you can’t improve in yoga or in life if you aren’t will to accept and embrace the need to change.