No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. -Heraclitus
As a requirement of completing yoga teacher training with CorePower, I’ve been attending C1 (beginning vinyasa) classes 1 or more times per week. It’s a set sequence, consisting of a combination of movements and asanas that seek to balance the body. So basically, it’s the same exact class, whether you’re practicing in Washington DC or San Diego CA. I’ve grown to have a love/hate relationship with C1, because on one hand it’s a really intelligent and fun class and I get something new out of it every time, but on the other hand NO MORE DAMN C1 PLEASE GIVE ME SOMETHING NEW I BEG OF YOU. So, I try to switch it up by visiting different studios and practicing with different teachers in my area.
Last night, on a whim, I decided to pop into a 5pm C1 with Laurel in North Park. I hadn’t really practiced yoga all weekend (a consequence of having a friend visiting from out of town and deciding that we were going to eat tacos instead) and I’m beginning to feel some fatigue from so much yoga lately. My body was stiff and I hobbled into the classroom, feeling like the tin man without any oil. Once I was in the studio and class had commenced, I felt like I was practicing in someone else’s body: my wrists were sore, my back in knots, my stomach bloated and heavy, my chaturanga precarious at best. I knew what I should have done: MODIFY. There’s no reason why yoga should hurt, and modification is something that most teachers/practitioners of yoga praise as a very “aware” thing to do. There’s something very sexy about a practitioner utilizing blocks and props in the studio… Like, woah, that chick must be so in-tune with her practice. Blocks are cool!
Yoga is often praised as being an “accessible” form of exercise because almost anybody can practice these movements in their body, given the right modifications. In teacher training, I’ve been studying special populations, which includes modifications for pregnancy, injury, obesity. It’s so important as a teacher to research the unique demands of each of these conditions, and more importantly gain awareness of the sensitivity with which teachers must approach the huge amount of variability between bodies. It was incredibly humbling to understand the obstacles through which yoga is pursued- it makes me feel like a baby for skipping yoga after a late night out when people with fibromyalgia are getting their flow on, despite extreme pain.
While I’ve been told my whole life to push through the pain, that “toughness” builds character and pain is an illusion- this mindset doesn’t serve my yoga practice (or my body, for that matter). Modification is seen as weakness, as giving up. However, after learning about the courageous ways in which a woman with Polio empowers herself to practice yoga with a malformation in her legs, I understood that there is a profound truth to uncover when you arrive at the practice that is totally YOURS, despite what the most advanced layer of a pose might be. As I felt myself dumping into my chaturanga for the umpteenth time the other night, it was clear that I’d be stronger for modifying. I took my knees to the mat and lowered down slowly as I exhaled; appreciating the wise choice of taking the appropriate layer of chataranga for my body’s current level of exhaustion.
Even though I practice C1 all the time, I’m never the same person on my mat twice. I move through these sequences, make the same shapes with my body, observe the same breath patterns. Despite this, I bring something different to my practice every time. Sometimes it’s joy, confidence in my body, or bliss. Other times it’s the stress of my day, the pain of a few days spent hunched over a computer, the frustration of something external. I have realized that it’s so important to honor exactly where you are by tuning in to your unique self in that moment, rather than wasting time doing someone else’s practice. So, modify where you need it. Be real with yourself about what’s going on in your body. Take a cue from people who practice with a variety of physical challenges and be brave enough to find your unique flow. You’ll be better for it.