Yoga Shouldn’t Hurt
Knowing what I know now about keeping my body safe, I might not have stayed in that hot yoga teacher training in Costa Rica. I didn’t hurt myself, but it was a red flag when the teacher said, “You can’t hurt yourself in yoga.” It was a red flag not only because you can definitely hurt yourself doing yoga, but also because she was so adamant that yoga—by its nature and design—is safe. Sure, you’re more likely to hurt yourself downhill skiing than doing yoga, but that doesn’t mean we should just stop listening to our bodies because everyone else seems to have no problem doing the pose the yoga teacher is doing.
Let’s take pigeon pose, for example. I used to love doing pigeon. (Spoiler alert: you’ll have to Google a photo because I don’t do it anymore.) When I first starting doing yoga, I lived in NYC and I was extremely competitive, which meant I did every single pose the teacher taught. Then I looked around the room and compared my version of the pose to everyone else’s. I loved pigeon pose because it was easy for me to contort into the version the teacher taught. Looking around the room, and comparing my pigeon to everyone else’s made me feel good about myself because I could do it well and easily (unlike many other poses.) There is a phrase in yoga: “Stay on your own mat.” It’s meant to discourage wandering eyes like mine, in large part because those wandering eyes fuel comparison or competition, and insecurity or boastfulness. None of these things helps us in the physical or spiritual practice of yoga.
Fast forward 20 years: I have learned that pigeon takes advantage of my flexibility and isn’t good for my sacroiliac joint. I know this because I feel a sharp, pointed pain in my low back not long after I do pigeon. Some days when I am laying on my back doing the much less fancy version of pigeon (supine pigeon), I miss that sense of feeling “good” at the pose. And in those moments, I remember why I really practice yoga: to access the flexibility yoga brings to my mind, not necessarily the flexibility it brings to my body. I remind myself that the practice of yoga isn’t about getting into the most intense version of a pose, it’s about the learning and the awareness of myself in the of process of getting into the pose.
As Jigar Gor says, “Yoga isn’t about touching your toes. It is what you learn on the way down.”
Join me, Elizabeth Muniot, for Recharge and Renew: A Yoga Retreat for Non Yogis January 10-12, 2020, and learn how to keep your body safe, while also learning how to slow down and figure out what you really need. Maybe it’s to lay on your back more, and compare yourself to others less. I may even teach pigeon. (I taught it last year, and changed the way people did the pose, so they now do it with more strength and less flexibility.) You never know what you might learn on your way down to your toes.