When it comes to practicing yoga in a group setting, give yourself permission to ____ (fill in the blank). If you practice yoga at a yoga studio you are familiar with the teacher leading you and others through a series of poses with ques and direction, but it can require a deeper understanding of your own body to know if all the postures being offered are serving you and your practice. What? Isn't yoga good for everyone? Yes, but not every yoga pose is for every body.
"Listen to your body" is a common que given in group yoga classes and while this is sound advice it gives little instruction on how to put it into action on the mat.
Start with, ahimsa. Non violence or do no harm. This concept exists in many belief systems around the world and it is the perfect tenet to apply to your yoga practice. Yoga is a lot of things, but it is not pain. If a yoga pose is causing you physical pain, get out of it. DO NO HARM. Pain felt in specific, localized areas of the body such as in the joints, (ankles, knees, shoulders) is doing you the opposite of good.
The nervous system grants access. This means when the body perceives being in a vulnerable position (posture) the nervous system shuts down access to the very strength or mobility you are seeking to create. Are you of the hold your breath and force it mentality? That can overwhelm the nervous system and the thing you're trying to train the body to do will be lost. In yoga, we emphasize attention to the breath, because it calms the nervous system, it lets us know it's ok to be where we are in a pose. In your own practice note when a pose takes the breath away, when the intensity of a pose makes us hold our breath. Notice that feedback, it's a sign to back off, ease up.
Create more access, less suffering. Not only can staying in a yoga pose that is causing pain lead to injury, but it is likely leading you away from the reasons that brought you to your yoga mat in the first place - to feel better in your body. As logical as this may sound it is a hard concept for us yogis (humans) to adopt, because we want to do everything that is being offered by the yoga teacher and we do not want to be left out/behind. Yet, there will be times when a yoga pose is not working for us. That is when in the midst of a group yoga class it is helpful to remember that we are still in charge of our body and our experience.
- You have permission to omit and modify yoga poses that are not working for you.
- You have permission to not do every single vinyasa that is offered.
- You have permission to not look like everyone else in the class and not be rejected for that.
- You have permission to ignore your ego and maintain the integrity and alignment of a yoga pose.
- You have permission to stay engaged with the aspects of a yoga pose that are accessible to you even if that is not the fullest most advanced version of the pose, because any amount of the pose is still the pose.
Listening to the feedback of the body when in a yoga pose is a skill to be honed, and the more you listen the more you will learn about what your body needs. This, I believe is important not only to your body’s health, but to the growth of your practice. Going hard is easy. Going easy, is hard. Embrace the full range of feelings you have about this and then cultivate grace in finding the ease your body and practice desires.
Sometimes simple is the most advanced choice
If you are interested in how to adapt and advance your yoga practice, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable in your own yoga practice, contact me. I teach one-on-one private yoga classes that help people create a more informed and sustainable yoga practice.