October 9th, 2018
One of the benefits of Vinyasa yoga is that we’re often encouraged to put our own spin on the poses, to take the variations that fit where our body is at on that particular day. Although this freedom is one of Vinyasa’s greatest assets, I argue that it can simultaneously be a detriment to growth. We love options, but therein lies the dilemma: Just because I can do something (a variation, a layer, an add-on), should I?
I have found three main reasons that yoga practitioners DO take options they SHOULD NOT:
REASON #1: AVOIDANCE
Throughout years of practicing yoga, taking a variation I can do just to get out of something I should do happens frequently, but no pose is as big a culprit as Revolved Chair. Year after year, I find myself in classes where I am brought into a hold in Chair and then worked into a deeper and longer hold as I’m asked to take a prayer twist from Chair, all while my trembling legs threaten to give out entirely! With little effort, however, the struggle vanishes with nine simple words : “Option to plant your hands and take Side Crow”. YES! SCORE! My Get Out of Revolved Chair Free card!
Side Crow has always been easy for me….considerably easier than, say, Revolved Chair. The trouble is that I know my body is already doing well with arm and core strength (Side Crow’s benefits), but I know I could use some work on leg strength and spinal flexibility (Revolved Chair’s benefits). In taking Side Crow, I avoid what I should do to advance my practice, and I take what I can do instead.
REASON #2: FLEXIBILITY TAKEOVER
(Guilty as charged!)
Sometimes, being flexible in a yoga class is not an asset. We have to be aware of where our flexibility lies, and what to look out for when we to tap into that flexibility.
Take Half Moon as an example. For far too long, I would put one hand on the floor and the other stretching up high. Why did I put my bottom hand on the floor instead of on a block? Because I could. My calf and hamstring flexibility (usually) allowed it. The trouble is that when I put my lower hand down to the floor, the rest of my body adapted and was thrown out of optimal alignment. Like most people who put their bottom hand all the way to the floor, this made my top hip close and my rib cage become unable to achieve as much rotation. I was flexible enough for the hand-to-floor option, but I sacrificed alignment. When I bring my lower hand to a block, my top hip is much more open, and I can rotate my rib cage up and back much more successfully.
REASON #3: EGO
(Can I plead the Fifth? It sounds better than confessing total guilt here…)
We’ve all heard some version of “At any point in class, you can come back to Child’s Pose”, but how many of us do it? I have been guilty far too many times of taking that extra vinyasa instead of Child’s Pose, of struggling through a difficult practice instead of taking a 5-10 breath break in Child’s Pose, and even simply taking Downward Facing Dog when what I really wanted was Child’s Pose.
This is entirely a result of ego. We muscle through, we think we need to do what others are doing, or for some reason we feel ashamed about attending to our needs. We do what we can, but not necessarily what we should…and to what result? Our body and/or mind suffers, and we ultimately have a weaker, less advanced practice.
In order to fix this issue in my own practice, I routinely challenge myself to an impromptu Child’s Pose in every class. (Well, maybe not every class because some days I feel like Super Woman!) When I do that, I am forcing my ego to let go and allowing what my body actually needs to take over. I would challenge everyone to do the same. When it becomes a habit, it’s remarkable how it can change your practice.
SO WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
The solution to these pitfalls is the same solution to so many of yoga’s questions: Always listen to your body. I love this saying: If you listen to your body when it whispers, you’ll never have to hear it scream. If we tune into the difference between what we can do and what we should do, we’ll be well on our way to never hearing those screams.
Written by Meraki Teacher Erin E.H. Austin
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