After a class I taught last week, I had a student come up to me and ask about alignment in triangle pose. She didn’t know if she was feeling things in the right places. She followed these concerns with the statement “If only I was a yoga teacher, I could practice all the time and get so much better.” There are a lot of responses I could have made such as: “Asana is only a part of your yoga practice,” or “Yoga teaches you to be accepting of where your body is in the present moment, even if triangle doesn’t look perfect.” However, while both of these statements are relevant, the comment that stood out the most was the idea that being a teacher inherently meant that my practice was better, more consistent or more advanced. This notion is entirely untrue. Here are three struggles common between students and teachers.
– Sometimes I don’t feel like practicing. Crazy, I know. Being a yoga teacher does not exempt me from the same barriers to consistent practice that everyone else faces. Some days I am tired, burnt out from work or just want to grab a drink with friends instead. There are times that I drag myself to the mat, and am happy that I did. There are other times, when it really would have been more beneficial for me to take a break. Consistency with your physical yoga practice is important, but remember that it’s OK to miss a class. The point of yoga is to tune into your body. If you honestly think that it would be better to take a break, then take a break.
– There are times it is hard to let go of competition and not compare my practice to those around me. I know the feeling of being in a class and seeing some one else execute a prefect pose, and wishing that mine looked like theirs. I can also relate to seeing the yoga body stereotype and feeling a little jealous. It is natural to see something you aspire to and to want it. It is much harder to let it go and settle into your own body, which is why yoga is a life long practice. Recognizing comparisons and competition get you nowhere is all part of the yoga mindset. Embrace the strengths of your practice, body and progress. Besides I am sure there is some one else looking at you and going “if only I had her…”
– Basic poses still give me a hard time. In all the years that I have been practicing and teaching yoga, it has only been in the last 3 months that I can touch my toes. While this used to be a source of humiliation for me, it has turned into a great teaching tool. Your body opens up as its ready. When you make something your focus and put time into it, your practice will be begin to change. When I first started teaching, all I wanted to do was arm balances and inversions. I muscled myself into side crow and head stand, all the while my down dog was a mess, and my hips, hamstrings and low back were so tight. When I took a step back and really focused on a slower practice and the “weaker” parts of my practice, everything changed. Taking time to really forward fold and open up my hamstrings has made every other pose better. Yoga builds on it self. Stop trying to skip over the more traditional poses to get to the “harder” ones. They will all come with time and a little patience.
As a yoga teacher, I have gone through training, learned about alignment, sequencing, meditation and energy balance. That does not mean, I still don’t struggle with consistency, motivation and feelings about my own practice. However, yoga is what has allowed me to take a step back and really see all these issues much clearer. Accepting that I don’t always want or need to go to a yoga class allows me to find time to take care of myself in other ways. Seeing things I like in other people’s practice, gives me the perspective to appreciate parts of my own practice. The biggest gift of all was struggling with basic postures and forcing myself to slow down. The exponential growth in my physical practice after that is a testament to how important it is to be patient and kind to your own body.
The next time you are in a class and catch yourself frustrated with triangle pose, or envious of how you imagine your teachers practice to be, remember that they invariably struggle with the exact same things you do. See if you can shift your attention away from the frustration or comparisons and instead drop a little deeper into your own practice. You might be surprised what your body is capable of.
More articles by yoga teachers: 3 Ways to Get the Most Out of Yoga Class
Photo: Nina Roberts