There I am. I’ve stepped onto my mat.
My toes touch tentatively. My spine straightens to attention and my finger tips tingle. Exhaling, my mind starts to slow as my thoughts soften. Sensations heighten. With a quiet sigh, I feel the relief of returning home to the comfort of myself.
Then, I see the teacher approach and I begin to tense. Sometimes, their guidance just doesn’t make sense.
Connecting with Your Inner Teacher Matters in Your Yoga Practice
For a long time, I’ve self-practiced solo and alone. I have taken the time to tune into what my body has to tell me and taken care to choreograph sequences accordingly.
In a class, however, I struggle to remain contained. I just don’t seem to be able to make the same connection or concentrate. I’m cautious about entrusting my soul to the class leader completely because I need to protect a nasty back injury.
You see, in the past, (well-meaning) teachers, despite knowing the details of my slipped disk, have tried to offer encouragement or adjustments that were damaging. Worse still, I’ve been mocked and called lazy because they thought the problem was in my mind.
It was confusing in the beginning, when I was still a trainee. I assumed the teacher always knew more about me than me. In my effort to accept and agree with what they had to teach me, I was careless with my body and compromised my own integrity.
But the truth is no one can see what is happening on the inside. There’s no replacement for the wisdom and guidance of your inner guru.
Respecting Your Body by Taking Responsibility
Now, I take responsibility and respect my body by managing things with modifications. Every time I am in class, I am reminded that yoga is the practice of self-enquiry, and if we’re listening, that sometimes means doing things differently—without apology.
Whether you’re injured or not, I encourage you to start empowering your yoga practice and trust the wisdom and integrity of your own body. Anything else just isn’t yoga. Here is how.
1. Make your movement conscious.
Keep things slow, meditative, and mindful. Watch and observe your actions and reactions and the sensations that arise from practice.
2. Exercise caution, but do try to challenge yourself.
If you are nursing an injury then go slow—nurture it. You may need to approach poses with some alterations or break them down to build your strength and flexibility differently.
3. Be in the moment.
Trust the moment. Be aware of how you are feeling today and honour that with your whole heart. Tomorrow will take care of itself.
4. Check your ego.
Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing or what they’ll think of you if you modify. This isn’t about anyone but you. So, do what you need to do to make the practice your own.
5. Speak up.
Tell your teacher about your injury, so they can offer insights and alternatives.
6. Arm yourself with information.
Research your injury or the things you find uncomfortable. Make an effort to understand your body for yourself.
7. Learn that not all discomfort is equal.
Try to differentiate between discomfort that is healing because something is shifting, stretching, or strengthening, and sensations that signal damage.
8. Make this your mantra: Try–Listen–Rest–Repeat–Modify.
Try something, listen to see how it feels, let your body rest, repeat, and try again, then modify according to what you observe in yourself.
While we look to a teacher for guidance, don’t forget to listen to the wisdom that bubbles away within. With a little effort and awareness we can empower our practice to better embody and honour our body in a way that is helpful and healing.