Setting The Scene
Take a look at the image above. How does it make you feel? Inspired, deflated –a bit of both perhaps?
❔ Let me ask you another question❔
- Do you think that your body should be a certain way to practice yoga? Or maybe you feel that if you simply can’t ‘achieve’ a certain pose, you are just not good at yoga.
- Maybe you start to wonder how yoga can really help you heal your back pain or dodgy knee?
The thing is, Yoga is not about creating pretty and somewhat impossible body shapes – that is just a complete illusion created by our modern conception of the need to excel and be good at everything.
Yoga, Self Healing and Self Acceptance
The goal of Yoga is far more holistic and healing; to find acceptance, peace and happiness in terms of our physical and emotional selves. We cannot achieve this if we approach our practice in a way which is self-critical, negative, and forceful.
Yoga becomes self-healing when we approach it from a perspective which invites self-acceptance.
My own personal yoga journey as a student and teacher has helped me to achieve this. By accepting my body, instead of moaning and fighting it all the time, I was able to find relief from my chronic sciatica and a nagging shoulder pain. It was self-compassion and inner enquiry which helped me to find healing.
Need more convincing? Here are a couple of common myths about Yoga which you may find interesting.
My Body is too ‘Abnormal’ or not the Right ‘Shape’ for Yoga
Just because your body ‘cannot’ do a pose or your body looks a little different from what you see in a book or on YouTube does not mean that you have an abnormal body or a body which cannot do Yoga!
The truth of the matter is, that although we all look ‘alike’ and are linked to a concept of ‘average’, we are not the same. We have different structural make-ups from the way our bones slot together to the composition of our joints, ligaments, muscles and fascia (connective tissue). So, what is normal for Tom 😺 may not be normal for Jerry 🐭 .
For example, Tom may be able to do the splits. Jerry might need a few props to get him close to the splits. Who is better at yoga? Neither! All this is telling us is that Tom’s body is fitted together a little differently from Jerry’s.
So when we approach our yoga practice, instead of thinking that our bodies are not normal enough to achieve a pose we need to accept that we may need to adjust the pose so that it suits our body. It doesn’t mean you are bad at Yoga, it simply means that your body would suit a different pose or might feel better with a modification or support from a prop or two.
My Body Can’t Follow the Teacher’s Cues
This one follows on from the above. We get it into our heads sometimes, that all poses need a fixed way of doing them to be safe. Alignment cues are great guide wires, but again, they are designed for Mr or Mrs Close to average (whatever that is). So, it may not be the best cue for you.
So how can we tell when and how to modify a cue to suit our bodies? The simple answer to that is to listen to your body and follow it’s cues.. Let me try and explain this with a couple of examples:
Interesting Study Day
I recently attended a study day which was actually on establishing Yoga in the NHS. We were practising the pose Virabhadrasana II and ways it could be modified to suit different bodies. One of the modifications was with regarding the front foot. The facilitator brought to our attention that the front foot doesn’t necessarily need to be pointing towards the front end of the mat. In fact, forcing the foot in this position, can trigger knee pain for some people, especially if they find it difficult to track the knee over the middle of the foot. Instead, we were guided that the foot might be allowed to veer off a little in order to accommodate the knee.
The important thing is that you do what works for you and note that as you get more experienced with your yoga practice and how your body works, you will be able to change your approach further down the line.
How Is Your Pigeon Pose?
Another example is pigeon pose. I have seen a few times students so desperate to get their shin parallel to the front of the mat (because that is the best way to do the pose) that they force the issue, using their hands to pull the shin into position.
The truth of the matter is, to get the shin parallel to the front demands a lot of external rotation of the hip joint. You will only achieve a huge range of external rotation if the top of the leg bone enters the socket in a particular orientation and fashion. You cannot influence this yourself, however much you practice. This is genes and structural make up leading the way. So, unless your femur head (top of the leg bone) fits into the socket in a certain way, no amount of practice or forcing will ever get your shin to sit parallel to the front of your mat – ever.
This is simple body mechanics and hey, you may not have the greatest range of external rotation (which is not actually a bad thing in terms of joint stability), you will compensate somewhere else – for example have a great range of internal rotation. The splits (which we mentioned earlier) is another example on a pose which relies on a certain orientation of body mechanics.
How To Practice To Assist Self Acceptance and Self Healing
So now we have put these myths to bed let’s look at two ways which we can create a yoga practice which will support our unique bodies encourage self acceptance and promote healing.
I love props; they are a powerful way of supporting your yoga practice in a way which will help you achieve your personal fitness goals. Not only can they get the right muscles working but also allow you to explore poses at a deeper level. Get away from the notion that using a prop is cheating. It is not. Do you and your body a favour and embrace your brick and bolster.
Listen to Your Body
Instead of getting fixated on achieving a set shape or level, create an attitude of enquiry on your yoga mat. Study your own body and movement and become your own internal source of information. Human movement is not unsafe and at the end of the day any kind of yoga practice is a movement practice. Strict cues and expectation can be very inhibitive. Instead, follow your intuition and see where it takes you. After all the pathway for self-healing starts with you getting to know yourself on a deep physical and emotional level.
🌺Self-healing begins from self-acceptance🌺.
- Yoga is not about performing specific shapes according to specific alignment cues. We are all unique so practising a yoga pose will look and feel differently for each and every one of us and that is to be celebrated.
- I would like you to change your perspective on your yoga practice. Remember that your body is amazing with its own story and life journey to tell. If you listen to it, you are in a great place to make positive changes to your health and fitness.
- Accept too that your body will continue to adapt and change. Nothing stays forever and we age. The beauty of Yoga is that we can adapt our practice accordingly.
- Finally, remember that the ultimate goal of Yoga is to help you leave the mat feeling comfortable in your own skin, and with an intimate, compassionate connection to your inner self.
- Practice self-acceptance with me. Click the picture below to get access to my latest yoga flow practice on YouTube.