“I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m really out of shape.”
I said something soothing in response. That wasn’t the first time that class she had said something of the sort. It wasn’t until later that I found the words I really wanted: “Why are you apologizing to me? I’m here to serve you, no matter if you’re athletic or stiff or crippled from an accident. There’s no need for you to diminish yourself.”
As a Yoga teacher, I focus on therapeutic movement. I don’t expect anyone to do anything besides what they can do right at that moment. I try to help every one of my students find their own best expression of a Yoga pose, and I don’t expect it to be the same or even similar between one student and the next.
And yet, people who practice with me are often apologizing and making excuses. They ask, ‘Okay, but how is this pose supposed to look?’
It’s not supposed to look like anything! The point is the effect it has in your body and mind. The value of posture is that it serves as a gateway to transformation.
In Yoga practice, modification is a dirty word. The true choice is not between a modification or the ‘full pose:’ is it appropriate, or inappropriate?
If what you’re doing is appropriate for you in that moment, it’s the full pose. Period. Yoga poses are nothing more than concepts, and how that concept takes flesh differs between my body and yours, from one breath to the next. We’re doing a disservice to ourselves by thinking of our ability, our flexibility, our strength, our practice as less than “normal,” as deficient, or in some way lacking.
By expecting everyone’s Yoga to look just the same, to take the same course, we are setting ourselves up to miss out on the opportunities waiting for us. And when we don’t “measure up” to the image we have, we might think we’re doing something wrong, or are less suited for Yoga.
Yoga isn’t a tryout or a boot camp. There are no standards to measure up to. It’s a system designed for no other purpose than to serve the individual practitioner.
Notice in yourself, in each moment, the rich dialogue between breath and body, awareness and thought, movement and stillness. Observe your rhythms and be a student of your subtleties. Trust yourself to discern between helpful and harmful. Your appropriate practice might be uncomfortable, it might be scary; listen for the flicker of wisdom that gives you the strength you need to keep moving forward. Know when to release habit or ambition and rest, to take care of your body; to build a practice sustainable over decades.
You might be able to find a teacher, a guide to help you on this path. You might not. You must develop your own sense of direction. Know when to work hard and challenge yourself. Know when to slow down and take your time. Practice your Yoga. There’s no easy formula, and practicing someone else’s Yoga won’t get you far.
I’m not advocating a free-for-all: I believe that intelligent sequencing and alignment is necessary. I believe in discipline, practicing hard, and seeing results. But I’ve learned over the years that, even with the amazing and brilliant teachers I am lucky to have, I have to take responsibility for my own practice.
Instead of measuring yourself against others, measure your progress in terms of the wisdom and sensitivity you develop, in the gradually deepening well of peace in the core of your being. After all, strength and flexibility and relaxation are just side effects. Very pleasant and attractive side effects, yes, but the goal of Yoga is much more ambitious: to correct warps in our perception; to create lasting peace from within.
So, to my student: Don’t worry. You’ll be “in shape” before long. But I truly hope that’s not the greatest reward awaiting you in Yoga.
Originally published by yoganonymous.