If you have taken a class at Yoga District (or hopefully, if you’ve taken a yoga class anywhere), you have heard these words. Your teacher has moved the class from Warrior II to Extended Side Angle. Your forearm is resting on your front thigh, chest opening to the side of the room. The pose is difficult, and your front thigh is beginning to shake, knee bent to 90 degrees. Then, as if she has no idea that this pose is freaking hard enough as it is, your teacher begins to offer modifications to deepen the pose. “If you feel comfortable, you can lower your bottom hand to the floor”. As a student, a teacher’s well-meaning modifications can come across as, “If you’re a good person, wrap your hand behind your back and take the bind” Okay, hopefully not in those words – but that’s how it can feel. Too often, we begin to equate our self worth to our physical ability and how we compare to those practicing around us. We judge our own practice by how closely our poses resemble the photos on the cover of Yoga Journal. When you hear the phrase “all options are equal”, it may not sound sincere. Clearly, you think, all options aren’t equal, and the girl next to me who has somehow wrapped her hands behind her back, around her thigh, and lifted her front leg straight into the air is winning.
While I have never felt competitive against other students in a yoga class, I have definitely been competitive with myself. I have pushed myself to achieve a fuller expression of a pose, even when I haven’t been ready or when it has caused me pain to do so. I have gone beyond my limits; driven by ego and the fantasy that teacher will love me more if my body can do more.
The 200-hour teacher training at Yoga District has opened my mind to the truth behind that phrase I’ve heard so many times: All options are equal. More than just equal – the decision to back off, do what is right for your body in the present moment and respect your limits is often the much harder choice to make. It is easy to show up for class and push yourself too hard, sacrificing your alignment or your breathing for the goal of getting to that next pose. It is actually more difficult to allow yourself to drop that bottom knee to the floor when you need to. It is a challenge to realize that your body is not ready to take a headstand today, even though last week you were able to hold the pose for two minutes. It is difficult to quiet your mind enough to listen to your body. To accomplish this is to truly practice yoga. Getting in touch with your body, your limits, and achieving the type of self awareness and confidence that it takes to back off and make decisions based on your needs will take you further on the path of yoga than a hands-free headstand ever will. When in class or practicing at home, listen to your teacher and to your body. All options are equal. Choose the one that works for you.
– Kate Adams