Your Best Yoga Manifesto: Listen to and Respect your Body (and Limitations)

Photo by Tine Butler

Photo by Tine Butler

Back on the blog to break down a couple of the final lines to my Your Best Yoga Manifesto. If you have missed any of the previous break-downs you can check them out here, here, here, and here. Now on to lines 7 & 9 - Listen to and respect your body and Respect your limitations and celebrate your successes. I am combining these two lines as they really do have the same intention behind them. 

If you have ever attended a Yoga class that I have taught you likely would have heard me say at the beginning of the class, “turn your attention inward and scan through the body”. One of the reasons that I provide this cue is because it’s a way of grounding people and bringing them in to the present moment,but the other reason is because I want them to start connecting to their body. Body awareness is a large part of a yoga practice. It means knowing where the heck your arms, legs and head are in space (because we don’t often stop and think about that) but it also means paying attention to how your body feels and knowing and respecting what it is capable of. Let me share an example from my own practice to explain this point further. I was participating in a class where we were moving from Prasarita Paddotanasana (a wide legged forward fold) into Head Balance, which means your forearms and head must touch the floor while in the forward bend in order to bring your legs up to the head balance. My hamstrings are TIGHT. They were stretched to their capacity and my arms were not pressing into the floor, so I started to come out of the forward fold and move into head balance another way. The instructor came over to me and stopped me, as it seemed she thought I was just taking an easier route of getting in to head balance and I could make this work if I really tried. Instead of allowing her to assist me in my forward fold (because I knew I already was at my edge) I just let her know that this variation was not working for me because of my hamstrings. This took me not only listening to my body, but also respecting it and not letting my ego get in the way. I could have tried and tried and let her provide a gentle press or lift of the hips, or whatever she came over prepared to do to get me to where I needed to be, but it just didn’t feel right in my body. I felt like I was going to injure myself. I respected my body and it’s limitations more than my need to feed my ego.

I can ask you to do a variety of things during a yoga class – fold from the hips, bend your knee, lift your chest, or sit into an imaginary chair – but just because I am instructing you to do so, doesn’t mean you have to. You have the power to choose not to do something if it doesn’t work or feel right in your body. For the purpose of this article, I will say in the Yoga class setting, I may be seen, as a certified and trained Yoga instructor, as the “expert” on the yoga practice, but I am not the expert on your body. If you just blindly follow instructions and cues that I provide you may end up doing something that causes you pain or even injury. This is also why I am not a huge hands-on adjustment person, especially if I have only taught you a couple times. I do not know what your body is capable of, so by coming to you and attempting to lift your arm here, or deepen a forward fold there, I could seriously injure you and likely piss you off! I put the trust in my students to be their own judge of what their body can and cannot do by listening and respecting their limitations. Certainly there are times when I see someone doing something a bit differently than others so I may give another alignment cue to see if they are just misunderstanding the instruction, or ask them if they can perform a certain movement, but I always assume they are listening to, and respecting their body and it’s abilities, and I leave them be. I’d much rather have a class of people doing their own interpretations of a pose (as long as they are safe and happy) than an army of perfectly positioned people who leave with injury.

So in my class, and all the others, please listen to and respect your body and limitations. And while your at it, be sure to be your own advocate in class so you don’t end up receiving an unwanted well-intentioned adjustment.

sandra mcneill