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All The Things In My Practice
How much you-ness can you bring to the mat? Let’s all bring it – and see what happens next.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST ANNA GUEST-JELLEY
My husband, Nic, and I went to see True Grit this weekend. Coen brothers movies often set me on edge, but Nic convinced me I could cover my eyes during the most violent scene, so I agreed to go.
As we were waiting for the movie to start, we were watching “The Twenty,” that non-stop commercial they play before movies these days. (Anyone else still miss the days when they just had a word scramble up there?)
Anyway, briefly distracted from being sold a million things, I looked down only to notice a humiliation of humiliations.
A ten-year-old was there–with his parents!
I quickly started to talk myself into the fact that if this child could tolerate this movie, surely so could I. Thirty minutes or so into the movie, things were getting Coen-style tense. I was cringing and looking away a lot, hoping that my eyes would happen to be away from the screen when they needed to be.
At one point, Nic whispered, “Okay, you might want to close your eyes now.”
In that split second, my thoughts went to the fact that I’d be having nightmares for days if I didn’t cover my eyes, and then they flitted back to that ten-year-old. I gave myself a mini-pep talk: “Dangit! I’m a grown woman! I can do this!”
And by this, I obviously mean cover my eyes.
Which I promptly did–just in time.
Here’s the thing about this “this”–this eye covering. I bring it to the mat. Yeah, you know it’s true. I bring this and a whole heap o’ other stuff that adds up to Anna. (Sure, the packing gets a little complicated sometimes, but I usually manage to jam it in there.) And you know what? My students are doing the same flippin’ thing.
We’re all there with our us-ness, doing what we can. I imagine many of us can come up with examples of when and how this has been true in our own lives.
Staying busy writing notes in the margins
In my own life, examples include bringing the stress of something at work or a problem someone in my life is having with me to the mat. There’s also something more subtle at play here, though, such as the tiny, often unnoticeable way that I’m moving toward self-acceptance through the awareness of mind and body I’ve developed through my yoga practice.
It’s also how my practice is informed by who else is in the room in a yoga class.
And how I’m feeling about my body and my self. And how anxious I feel about the teacher inevitably noticing how terribly I’m seemingly doing on any given pose. And what I heard on the radio on my way into class.
And the side conversation I had with my classmate. And the fact that I overslept my alarm that morning. And the way my practice now differs from twelve years ago. And what I’m looking forward to later that day or month. And what I’m in the process of writing. And how I want to meet the needs of my yoga students tomorrow. And how I can possibly deal for one more minute with my crazy coworker. And what pithy thing I can tweet later.
And why sometimes it feels like it’s always something. And what I want to have for dinner in two days when I meet a friend. And what my sister said to me five years ago. And how my ten-pound dog once cornered a groundhog twice its size by our basement for hours until we got home.
And that time in high school Speech class when I almost had a panic attack at the prospect of using my voice publicly. And that I couldn’t zip my jeans up this morning. And that I’ve had to limit my news intake to stay sane. And the fact that I’m right here, in this moment, typing away.
Or in this moment, doing whatever I’m doing, while you’re reading. Bringing my me-ness to the mat is how I finally came to embrace being a curvy yoga student and teacher–and, even more importantly, whole person.
Directing my attention to my own headlines
I got to the point where it just became ridiculous to try to hide my curves anymore (not like I ever was in the first place anywhere but my own mind). And although that first foray into not-hiding and not-forcing my body to do something it never would do in a million years and then mentally berating myself for it being true was scary, the benefits were unbelievable.
Looking back, I see how stagnant my practice was until that point–even if I was making surface improvements in poses, everything basically stayed the same until I just got in there and said “screw it” and brought all of me (or as much as I could manage on any given day) fully to the mat.
Although I’m sure you may have tried to forget that I mentioned this, our students (or fellow classmates) are doing this, too. They’re trying to figure out how much them-ness they can and want to bring to class.
And in some ways, working with people who “obviously” need modifications is the low-hanging fruit.
No straight lines – in nature, it’s all curvy
Yeah, there are plenty of teachers who mess that up or avoid it entirely. But many don’t. Many try to accommodate those students who we could all pretty clearly pick out of a line-up as needing help.
In the Sesame Street version of yoga class, the teacher can usually eyeball “which of these is not like the others” in terms of their seeming ability to practice the poses safely. What’s more difficult is letting students’ curves arise organically–in whatever their manifestation: physical, emotional, etc.
Offering modifications is just a step along the way to meeting our students, and ourselves, where we are. Is it important to know how to instruct various bodies safely? Hell yes it is. But it’s not an end point.
We don’t get our teacher gold star at that moment and then get to go lie down for nap time (although I’m never one to diss a nap). Nope, instead it’s just a stop along the way–a lovely tourist trap, perhaps, but not the reason we went on this trip in the first place.
Which is to bring our whole hot mess of us-ness to the practice and see what happens next.
Anna Guest-Jelley is an advocate for women’s rights by day, a yoga teacher by night, and a puppies’ mama all the time. She is making her way through life with joy, curves and all. Visit her at her website Curvy Yoga and on Facebook and Twitter.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.