One of my favorite yoga sayings is “Don’t practice yoga to get better at yoga. Practice yoga to get better at living.” When teaching, I always have this in my mind. So, one of my primary intentions in my classes is to create an environment where the student (you) will listen to their (your) own body and inner teacher.
I don’t teach yoga as if it’s “one-size-fits-all.” Yes, there are certain realities that teaching group classes entails – a planned approach, a certain theme, an expectation of general ability. Those are all hard to avoid. But when actually teaching, those factors need to be balanced with the reminders of the importance of being mindful, so you become both a more skillful practitioner and, ultimately, your own best teacher.
Not all postures are for every body, and each time we come to the mat we have changed since the last time we were there – it’s true! Practice by practice, day by day, even breath by breath, we are faced with a new moment, a new condition, a new context. And each moment, each occasion, offers us an opportunity to pay attention to what we need in that very moment and take the appropriate action. This is how we learn to take care of ourselves during practice, and it has the added benefit of helping us to develop skillful presence off-the-mat, too.
As my own practice has matured, I’ve let a number of postures go - there are many I don’t practice anymore because I’ve learned they’re not beneficial for my body. And there are other poses I might reject on certain days for one reason or another.
Hopefully, in every class you take, you learn something new about yourself, and how to use your practice to take care of your own needs, through all the changes of your life. Seasons change, we pass through various life cycles, we learn something new, we might be injured or be recovering from this or that, we’re tired or stressed – all of these are times when “standard” offerings (which may be appropriate most of the time!) may not “fit” your particular needs.
You, as a practitioner, need to evaluate your own motivations, conditions, and context and decide whether to do a pose as it’s given, or something different. This means that teachers should be prepared to offer modifications and alternatives for every pose they teach!
Practicing yoga is transformational. We willingly put ourselves and our bodies into positions and shapes that can be difficult on many levels, not just the physical. If we approach our practices with sincere interest, openness and curiosity, any pose has the potential to effect change. Do we really need to stress the body and mind to “work the edge” all the time? I don’t think so.
Other ways could be:
- Doing less! This offers a mental edge for most.
- Trying something new, which stimulates different sensations and experiences and builds different neural maps.
- Going SLOW, pausing between poses to feel its residue in our system.
- Focus on the basics – doing “simple” work with complete attention.
- Moving in a pose rather than maintaining a static hold.
- Discovering relationships among families of poses.
- Using a chair!
- Playing with some shape in different gravitational positions/orientations.
- Mental placement/focus in the pose (or physical emphasis), e.g., with a yogic principle.
- Playing with adaptations so students learn alternatives.
Teaching offers infinite ways to adapt and modify asana practices. I regularly do all of these (and more!), while reminding you of the importance of listening within, so both your yoga practice and quality of life improve!
Students can really benefit from working privately with an instructor to learn these things. I find my private students are much more willing to adapt poses, and they feel much better because of it.
Take advantage of this time! There may be no better time to make your practices work the best they can for you. Now that almost all yoga classes are online and you’re practicing in your own private space, you have the opportunity to take your practices deeper by learning and incorporating self-adjustments and modifications. May this time of such difficulty and isolation bring blessings through a deeper relationship with your inner teacher. Your life will change for the better, both on- and off-the-mat!
I currently have availability to take on new private clients. If you would like to take your practice to the next level, or would like to learn how private yoga can help you, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!