The Conversation: Are you shouldering on yourself and others?
I heard this phrase after teaching one of my first yoga classes in Naples, shortly after graduating teacher training. I’m not exactly sure what I was saying I “should or shouldn’t have done,” but after hearing this simple phrase I’ve adopted it in not only my daily yoga practice but in many areas of my life.
I remember when I first started practicing yoga. While this was something that calmed my mind for an hour at a time, it was really hard for me to feel connected to teachers, other practicing students, or to any studio in particular. I always felt "less than." I always compared myself to the teacher posing at the front of the room, or the person next to me in an arm balance. Not knowing the Sanskrit names of the postures, the alignment cues, or the names of certain parts of the body, I remember specifically thinking, “WTF is a bandha and how do I activate it?" I always took myself out and felt I wasn’t doing it “right." Needless to say, i was always looking for more. More knowledge, more insight, and I needed help. So I researched and found some super cool-looking yogis on Instagram. I would watch videos of them practicing--while still comparing myself, how my body moves and bends (or rather doesn’t move or bend), and still not feeling any type of spiritual or inner connection to any of these movements, or my breath.
Years later, I found a studio that was inclusive, informative and I landed in their teacher training program. I met some of the most amazing people from all walks of life. Some who can hold crow pose for 10 minutes if they wanted to, some who can press from crow pose to handstand EVERY TIME THEY PRACTICE. Some whose hips and shoulders are perfectly stacked in half moon while their gaze is all the way up at their lifted fingers as they float their foot even higher towards the ceiling. And then there was me, the avatar-like girl with awkward arms, tight hamstrings, AND THE ABSOLUTE TIGHTEST HIP FLEXORS IN ALL OF LEE AND COLLIER COUNTY (besides Dave Galainena 😉). I quickly learned the physical postures that are cued in any flow meant nothing. No one gives a shit how high your leg is. It’s about how you feel in your body, whereever it may be, and your breath giving you fuel to keep going. It’s about breaking through those barriers we limit ourselves to when we compare or think we “should” look like this or that. Also, If your hips aren’t stacked in half moon, guess what... YOU ARE STILL IN HALF MOON (sorry, "ardha chandrasana” *cue eye roll*)
My sole duty as a yoga teacher is to include everyone, whether you have perfect alignment or you are an anatomical mess like myself. I am in no way, shape, or form ever going to tell or show anyone what their practice “should” look like. Remembering how I felt at the beginning of my yoga journey brings me to this place, to this awareness that no one's body is the same. My shoulders don’t stack on top of my hips, ever. Why? I don’t know, maybe because I have a 68" wingspan and E.T. FINGERS that magnetically pull towards the floor, bringing my shoulders down with them.
While I appreciate every aspect of yoga and acknowledge that some teachers have a different style or tradition when cueing or flowing, I ask you this: What if someone isn’t able to go where you think they “should” be? What if they haven’t reached the full expression of a posture because their body may never be limber enough to achieve the anatomically correct stacking of hips over knees? Where can we stop making something a book tells or shows us the expectation? We can start being inclusive on and off the mat. Whether your bandhas are activated or you have no idea what utkatasana is, I invite you to come flow with me. Knowing no matter what shape your body is in, wherever you are—you are right.