Thursday, September 20, 2012

your wisest teacher

Please enjoy this fantastic guest post by Misty Pittman.
By the time you read this, I will have taught my first basics class at Barefoot Works.   But at this moment, the class is still 3 days away.  I’ve been thinking about this class for a long time and asking myself, “What are the best tools to give these students so that they can move forward with a safe and healthy practice?” 

I’ve also been spending a lot of time thinking about my own personal practice; how it started and what it looks like today.   I am reminded of the struggles I’ve had on the mat, as well as the moments when my practice supported me in the most loving of ways.

Over the last few years I have dealt with various physical injuries, limitations, and discomfort.  Let me preface this by saying, I am 33 years old.  I have a cranky hip that talks to me daily, knees that ache for no apparent reason, and most recently an injury in my back that has left me lying crippled on the floor.  I’ll admit, I have wondered on more than one occasion… “Did yoga do this to me??”

It is no secret that people can experience injuries while practicing yoga.  Just like people can injure themselves in an aerobics class, playing sports, or doing any other activity that is physically demanding.  But yoga, like all other forms of fitness, is rarely to blame.  Instead, how we approach the practice and how we honor our own limits often has everything to do with it.

My body has been conditioned in a certain way from years (and I mean years) of sitting at a desk (not good for the psoas or IT band).  My hips, pelvis, and glutes are tension central… this is the area of my body where I hold the majority of my stress and emotions.  Some people hold it in their shoulders or their jaws.  It’s important to be aware of where you hold yours.  And let’s not forget our unique anatomy that ensures that no two people are alike and no two people will look the same way or feel the same way in a yoga pose.

While I often get frustrated at my body, (why won’t my knees settle on the floor already?!), I realize that my body has also been my greatest teacher.  It has taught me respect and patience.  I have experienced the freedom of letting go and working within my limits rather than painfully pushing against them.   I am learning how to use my practice therapeutically.  I am appreciating how my practice can support me, not just physically, but mentally and soulfully.

In the early years of my practice (over 10 years ago), my teachers did not talk about modifications or honoring the body.  Flexibility was the goal, and the only way to get there was to pushpushpush, holdholdhold.  I practiced in studios surrounded on all sides by mirrors, so that we could be constantly reminded of how “imperfect” our poses looked while the teacher demonstrated them beautifully.  My how things have changed…

So do I think yoga is to blame?  No, I truly don’t.  But I think my desire to look as good as the person next to me, to impress my teacher, and to push myself beyond a safe edge during my practice are all examples of how mindlessness on the mat can add insult to injury.

And so I return to thinking about my upcoming class.  I am prepared to teach my students safe alignment principles, how to modify in a way that is suitable for them, and how to use props effectively.  I’m ready to introduce them to the mysterious world of Sanskrit and teach them the tricks of transitioning from pose to pose.

What makes my heart really beat with excitement, though, is teaching students…

·        What it means to “honor” their bodies. 

·        How to listen intuitively.

·        What unhealthy pain feels like versus an uncomfortable, but healthy, stretch.

·        How to follow the breath and know that it will take them exactly where they need to go. 

I know that if these students can begin to bring these skills into their practice, they will have a solid foundation that will sustain them and evolve with them throughout their lifetime.  And it is my biggest hope that over time those skills will move beyond the mat and permeate into all areas of their life.

I am so looking forward to the fun we are gonna have!


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