I start all my classes with words like these: “If any pose doesn’t work for you today, you don’t have to do it. Come back to sitting, standing, or child’s pose. Listen to your body.”
This is critical information to share, especially for a newer student who might feel an expectation to complete each pose, no matter how difficult. Taking that advice to heart is how you protect your body from injury and start building awareness of what your body needs in any given moment.
It’s generally meant as an invitation to refrain from competition, even with yourself.
Of course, there are always students who take it in the other direction, students who listen to their bodies and choose advanced versions of poses or different poses altogether, not as a means of rest, but as a way to challenge themselves more deeply.
Basically, this is fine. Another thing I remind students is that this is their time. This is their practice.
However, before you put your leg behind your head while the rest of us are getting ready for savasana, there are a few things I’d like you to keep in mind:
No Pose is “Better” Than Another
Every pose and variation in yoga comes with specific benefits. Each has its own energy. In fitness, after we’re strong enough to jump on a high box, we don’t mess with the low box anymore, but in yoga, it’s impossible to outgrow a pose. Child’s pose is as valuable today as it was during your very first class, and it always will be.
When I’m teaching a low lunge and people go to a high lunge, they’re missing the benefits of low lunge. If they pop up into wheel instead of bridge, they’re missing everything bridge has to offer.
Sometimes, More Physical Challenge is Not What We Need
In my first teacher training, one of my teachers said, “Design your classes for what people need, not what they think they need.” As a huge fan of high-intensity exercise, I get it: I enjoy a physical challenge. But there’s more to yoga than that. If we’re constantly craving the most difficult physical poses, what we probably need most is something simpler, gentler, more soothing, something to balance the urge we have to elevate our movement to “harder.”
If you find bridge so boring that you move into wheel, is wheel really the more challenging pose? The mental and emotional challenges are real, too, and they’re worth exploring.
Nothing in Yoga is Wasted
If you’re irritated about a class that seems too slow-paced, pay attention: there’s something to learn there. Nothing in yoga is a waste of time; as long as you’re staying mindful and breathing deeply, you’re benefiting from whatever you’re doing on the mat.
Ask Yourself Why You’re Doing It
Are you showing off, to yourself or others? Are you punishing your body in some way, maybe because it’s more tired than you think it should be or because you ate more than you intended for lunch? Do you think more advanced poses are what make you a “good” yogi?
I Have My Reasons, Too
Sometimes, as a teacher, I want you to slow down. Sometimes I want to make sure you’re good and warmed up for whatever’s next. Sometimes I feel like we haven’t done a certain pose in awhile so we’re doing it today. Why not try it and see what happens?
If you change a pose or a variation here and there it’s no big deal, but if you’re regularly choosing poses that aren’t what the teacher has chosen for the class, it might be time to start a personal practice at home rather than always going to a group class. And that’s a good thing!
If you’re a teacher, to what extent do you encourage students to do their own thing? If you’re a student, do you ever find yourself trying to make the class more physically challenging?
Featured Image via Bad Yogi community member Brooke Roberts