I’m back with another struggle of mine. Like I said in the former Sharing My Struggle post, these posts aren’t really meant to be full of answers or advice (quite the opposite actually) but rather me sharing my thoughts and maybe sparking yours! There’s something freeing about allowing myself to be open and authentic about how I experience the human condition. Highly recommend 🙂
As I’ve said before, when I came across yoga, it was completely informal and self-taught. While I still find this a beautiful aspect of my practice, it led to a lot of “bad” habits. By bad, I really mean not properly aligned. Many of my versions of postures are technically “incorrect”. I use all these quotations because I honestly don’t think the words incorrect & bad have a place in yoga. Since the start of my journey, I’ve learned an overwhelming amount of information about anatomy, injuries, and alignment in yoga, stirring questions in my mind. Am I taking care of my body? Or could I actually be harming myself? Am I even on my mat to take care of my body? Is my practice safe and sustainable? Do I want it to be? Should I listen to anatomy books or my own body and sensations? Why does improper alignment feel so good in my body? How can I teach others yoga safely if I practice unsafely?
Yoga came so seamlessly and naturally – it felt like home, the original state of my body. For the first year of my journey, I would practice with loud music, no mat, no props, no cute yoga clothes, no rules, just allowing. Then I started going to yoga classes and reading yoga books. After being exposed to proper alignment, I became aware of my flaws. I became obsessive and restrictive with myself. The practice changed. I couldn’t move in a carefree way and I was constantly checking off alignment boxes in my head. I practiced in front of a mirror, critiquing myself for doing things “wrong” and praising myself for doing things “right”. In this way, I thought “proper alignment” stole my practice (spoiler altert, it was me). I tried to get it back. I tried to ignore alignment but every time I stepped on to the mat, it was like a dam burst in my brain and I was flooded with anatomical information. My practice became a routine of checking off alignment boxes. I tried to block out new information, but the lack of learning made my practice stagnate and boring. Yoga didn’t feel like a part of me anymore.
I told myself that the old way – the way that felt right but apparently was wrong – was bad. And the new way was good. I let go of my old practice and accepted the change. I learned to teach. I learned SO much more about how to keep people and myself safe while practicing yoga. (Just for the record, learning proper alignment wasn’t always negative to me at all. For every time one I was confused by the “right way”, there were more times I was led into the proper alignment and I was like oh wow ok that’s how that’s supposed to feel.)
But there was something missing. Freedom. Spontaneity. Lightheartedness.
For a year, I gave myself cheeky practices here and there like a bodybuilder gives themselves cheat meals. I threw my head back and let my arms hyper-extend in upward facing dog. My knees traveled far past my toes in every lunge. I fought with the stability of my shoulders. I bent my low spine. My forehead kissed the earth in downward facing dog. I danced on my mat, breaking all the “rules”, like an runaway teenager. A smile spread across my face. After the high, I felt guilty and ashamed of what I had done. I considered my yoga practice self-harm.
My mindset changed when I stopped taking myself and my yoga so seriously, realizing that perfect alignment doesn’t exist. Every pose is experienced differently in every body – there is no right or wrong. Alignment is important and helpful, but far from the point. Now I (usually, I still struggle) trust my body to know what to do.
Here’s my thinking now and warning, you might disagree and that is OK. The bottom line is, there is a safe way(s) to practice each yoga pose and this is the only version(s) I will teach. Outside of my teacher scope, life is short. And I don’t practice yoga for the physical benefits (I mean they’re nice, I’ll take them. But that’s not why I’m here). This was a hard realization to come to – yoga is “healthy” right? It’s a way of taking care of my physical body, right? Yes, in a way, but the truth is, yoga teaches me the impermanence of my body. It’s here and gone. I practice to feel my body from the inside out, to be in the moment, to breathe in, to breathe out, to feel the universe flow through me. I’m here for the feelings, not the appearances.
I guess I’m still looking for the perfect balance of the carpe-diem-do-whatever-feels-good-listen-to-my-body mindset and the actual preservation of my body and its strength, mobility, and flexibility. Have you felt this? Do you have a pose that feels so right when your alignment is lacking? It’s good to be bad 😉