Some of The Most Important Lessons in Yoga That We Sometimes Forget
Updated: Jan 11
These past 2 years the clients that have been with me since day one were seniors. Men and Women in their 60’s - 80’s ( yes 80’s), that have reminded me over and over again about why I teach yoga. Yoga is about choosing yourself even for as little as 1 hour a day. Giving your mind the time, space and movement away from your world. It’s the ultimate me-time. Through our classes, these wonderful individuals have constantly surprised and inspired me to be better. While most teachers have practitioners of all ages come to their classes, life handed me a group that taught me some very important lessons in my practice and more in such a short time. Important pointers that are sometimes left by the wayside as the popularity of yoga grows. I want to share them with you in this article as a reminder for all of us as we go deeper into our practice.
1. Moving your body is more important than pushing your body to its limit.
I teach Vinyasa. A dynamic form of yoga that moves from asana to asana at the rhythm of one’s breath. It can be quite difficult for newbies because even if the rhythm os slower we need to activate more muscles to maintain the flow. Nowadays people raise the bar by progressing into more difficult movements until we reach a peak pose which might end in an inversion. This was something I thought of as the norm until I got my first group class. Peak posing is simply not an option because I had students who had knee problems, circulation issues, and previous surgeries. They weren’t shiny new souls that didn’t have a scratch on them so I had to be careful. One day I asked my students if they felt my class was boring because we kept on doing the same thing. They enthusiastically said no because they were grateful that they could still move in so many directions. Just by exploring their Range of motion, they have improved mobility, rest and posture–and that was enough. Being able to move should be enough in our practice, a little bit of challenge is healthy but not at the expense of injury.
2. Your practice is learning about your body over and over again.
I have a student who got into a car accident some years ago. She had pins on her feet from reconstructive surgery after which, the surrounding tissues in her feet became rigid and gave her limitations in yoga class. In our classes, I usually asked her how she was doing or if she was in pain. She always said yes but that she needed to learn her body again so it's ok. Truer words have never been spoken. When life happens like age, accidents or surgeries, the process restarts. Maybe we find some things more difficult to do yet we come to class to choose our bodies or ourselves over and over again. it shouldn’t impede our desire to stop working with our bodies. Its the only one we have.
3. We do yoga to improve the quality of our lives not our asanas
My senior students love a challenge. Over the years, I have modified my sequencing to adapt to the peak pose method to their bodies’ needs. As they improved they collectively asked for more challenges, strived for perfection while pushing themselves a bit more than I required. I anticipated this as a step back. Not because I thought they had limitations––it was the fact that they missed the point of yoga. In one class I took advantage of their savasana to send this message: I love it when we take our practice seriously this signifies that improving our practice makes us feel better. Still, sometimes in our motivation for said perfection, we lose sight of what matters. Why do we practice yoga? Is it to achieve advanced poses or to be able to play with our grandchildren well into our 80’s? We do yoga to keep us alive inside and out, not to keep us in the studio. We work out so we can play more. Let’s not lose sight of that and remind ourselves that our yoga practice is for the most important things in our lives and not the shapes we can make.
4. We get to practice in a non-judgemental environment.
In the first published article I wrote, part of my outline talked about who introduced me to yoga in the first place. I wrote: Madonna. Yes. Of all the people who could have introduced me to yoga, it was a pop star__ well her and Oprah. 1998, Madonna announced that she was done with the gym. She said that found a way to work out her mind body and soul through Ashtanga. She ended on a very memorable quote–at least for me. Madonna said, “You can’t rush through it. You can’t skip to the next position. You find yourself in really humiliating situations. You can’t judge yourself.” No judgment because in a yoga practice everyone’s starting point is different. There are students in my class that started from zero while others were former dancers or athletes. There’s no comparison. I mean that in the best sense. The beauty of yoga is that we leave our egos at the door. Maybe we pick it right back up once we leave the room yet how comforting is it to think that for the hour we spent in there everyone is exactly the same, more importantly as perfect as anyone can be in the moment.
5. Don’t rush your practice wherever you’re at is exactly where you should be.
Much of our yoga inspiration is taken from Instagram, videos, an expert in their craft and sometimes contortion. Looking back, I approached my yoga classes the way I would a dance class; paying close attention to my teachers, taking in cues and pinpointing the exact muscle to use, breaking down the steps into achieving every pose, whatever it took to achieve the asana. The problem was that when I didn’t get there, I became so frustrated that I let my emotions about my lack of ability to spiral down that rabbit hole. A path I don’t want for any of my students. When you start comparing yourselves with everyone who’s better than you is the fastest way to quitting your practice altogether. Someone will always be better than you. Not because they are genetically gifted with double-jointed everything (maybe some of them are), because maybe they started their practice earlier. That’s ok. You don’t need to catch up with them, you need to learn you. Every time you get on your mat, every time you move, every second you focus on yourself and clear your head from all the noise your thoughts make–you become a better version of yourself. Not only because you become stronger but because you can make your world more peaceful just by closing your eyes.
In the four years of being a yoga teacher, I went from nervous newbie to a resourceful professional who thinks on her feet. So to recap, move your body, because every time you do you are choosing to learn it each time. Remember that we practice yoga to improve our daily lives, not our handstands. Don’t judge others or yourself in your practice. Lastly, remember that the state you are presently at in your practice is exactly where you need to be. Maybe I don’t have enough experience as other teachers twice my seniors but that doesn’t matter because I’ve chosen cut the comparison. The experience I had is all I can share and that should be enough. All I know is that I care about each and every one of my students whether they are live or online. I hope that if you have only 1 takeaway from this article is that you find a quiet space for your body and mind and visit every now and again.
Good luck Misfit Yogis!