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Ask A Yogi: Body Differences + Pose Modifications

Ask A Yogi: Body Differences + Pose Modifications

Q:  I enjoy doing yoga but I get insecure about my body differences.

When I need help with modifications, I am embarrassed to ask. What can I do to let the instructor know that I need some assistance without disrupting the class?

 

Amy:  I’m so glad to receive this question, and I really appreciate the phrase “body differences.” 

There’s a lot to care for here, so I’m going to break up the answer into two parts. (look for Part Two to post soon!)

 

 

Part One: The Culture of Body Differences: Insecurity & Positivity

 

Because we live together in a society, we grow up learning what is and isn’t acceptable, as well as what is and isn’t desirable or worthy of attention, comfort, or praise from a variety of industries that make up our popular culture.  From entertainment and leisure to fashion and trends, to scores of news outlets, we see, hear, and internalize sets of beliefs that shape our world view and self-image.  In addition to these broader influences, our belief systems are also shaped by our specific family culture, which can include ethnic and religious traditions, shared knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors, as well as the outlook, attitudes, values, morals, goals, and customs shared by our own immediate and extended families.  Because our cultural formation is both broad and specific, we grow into adulthood with a variety of filters unique to our own experience; and to add more complexity, these different lenses might even be in conflict with each other.  

 

You are not alone.  Our unique world view and self-image shape how we function in relation to ourselves and other people during public events and private moments.  We tend to compare ourselves to an internal “ideal,” to other groups of people, and individuls to see where we fall on the spectrum of “socially acceptable.”   

 

It’s helpful to remember that not only are we not alone in the experience of being different, but every single one of us has some kind of body difference, whether subtle or obvious, as well as invisible differences, such as auto-immune diseases, mental injury, complex learning styles, and so much more.  So when we head into a body-based class like yoga, we’re all bringing with us thousands of years of ancestral DNA, our own cultural formation, and all of our “differences” both seen and unseen.  

 

It is natural to experience insecurity around our differences.  And it’s also natural to experience positive emotions around our differences.   The next time you feel unsure about an instruction, posture, or practice in a yoga class, remember it’s not just you; most likely, other students are unsure about it, too.  We’ll get into the details more in Part Two, but briefly, if the style of the class is not too terribly fast, and you can make eye contact with the teacher, trying asking for general suggestions.  For instance, if you’d rather not ask specific questions about a particular topic, consider asking for more general modifications.  Try something like, “Can you offer any other options if this isn’t working for us?”  Remember this, if nothing else: Yoga, and yoga postures, are here in service to you; you are not in class to be of service to the postures.  

 

If you’d like to take this discussion further, if you’ve ever thought, “yoga is not for me,” or if you’d like to explore the possibilities around shifting from insecurity to positivity, here are some great resources:  

  • Amber Karnes & Body Positive Yoga: Amber is the founder of BodyPositiveYoga.com and the creator of Body Positive Clubhouse, an online community for folks who want to make peace with their bodies and build unshakable confidence.  
  • Yoga for AmputeesMarsha T. Danzig 
  • Amputee Yoga Association
  • Accessible Yoga:  AccessibleYoga.org:  A nonprofit organization that believes all people, regardless of ability or background, deserve equal access to the ancient teachings of yoga.  By building a strong network and advocating for a diverse Yoga culture that is inclusive and welcoming, Accessible Yoga is sharing Yoga with all.

 

Part Two – The Yoga Classroom:  Student-Teacher Relationship & Class Agreements (coming soon!) 

Resident MBA Yogi, Amy Secrist, is available to answer questions, give insight and guidance, and help you feel great about your yoga practice. You can email your questions to Amy@mindbodyalign.com or message us on Facebook or Instagram  #AskAYogi  @MindBodyAlign 

You can also join Amy for practice at the Butterfly House on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:30 am. Learn more here. 

 

 

 

Ask A Yogi: Foot Pain During Balance Poses.

Ask A Yogi: Foot Pain During Balance Poses.

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers!

 

Resident MBA Yogi, Amy Secrist, is available to answer questions, give insight and guidance, and help you feel great about your yoga practice. You can email your questions to Amy@mindbodyalign.com or message us on Facebook or Instagram  #AskAYogi  @MindBodyAlign 

 

Question: My feet hurt like crazy by the time I get to balancing poses.  Is this normal?

 

Amy:  Yes, it’s totally normal for your feet to feel sore after practicing standing poses

 

… especially if you’re new to yoga or just starting back up again after a break. The main reason for this is fatigue. Just like any other group of muscles, the feet get sore if we use them in a different way. For instance, when you start walking, jogging, running or training for an event, or when you add a new exercise to your lifting routine or CrossFit sequence, you definitely feel it the next day, right?  The feet respond a little quicker on the yoga mat mainly because, well, shoes. If we wear shoes more than we go barefoot, we’re not stretching or strengthening all the muscles of our feet; instead, the shoes are doing all the work of supporting our entire body while our feet stay cooped up.

When we shed our shoes and step on the yoga mat, we’re allowing our feet to stretch and strengthen, grasp and ground, root and reach.  Just one more reason yoga is awesome! For more on giving your feet some love, check out this article by Power Vinyasa Flow yoga teacher, Zainab Zakari, and keep on yoga-ing — your feet will thank you. 

You can also join Amy for practice at the Butterfly House on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:30 am. Learn more here. 

 

 

Yoga in real life

Yoga in real life

meditate

Yoga works in myriad ways.   Often it works intangibly in our multi-level capacity as human beings, mentally, physically, and spiritually, growing us into better people over time.   It illuminates, challenges, awakens, calms, invigorates, opens, heals, sustains.  Yoga clarifies and enlightens.  In other ways, yoga works more concretely.  We realize this when we experience immediate, observable effects after practicing specific breathing techniques or relaxation poses which bring us into better balance.  We can even put our hands on the results of yoga practice when we participate in different activities like benefit classes raising support for local charities.

Yoga doesn’t always work

But there are also ways in which yoga does not work.  For instance, yoga doesn’t work like magic, removing the crises or stressors from our lives at the moment of savasana.  Neither, unfortunately, does it work through osmosis.  We can’t slip the yoga book, video, or MP3 file under our pillow and wake up blissful.  Much like prayer, simply reading about it doesn’t make its benefits manifest in our lives.  Instead, the hard work of consistent practice is required.

Yoga as lens

For me, yoga has worked like a lens magnifying everything I hold it up to, whether that be the health of my body, the busyness of my mind or the mysteries of my faith.  In this new kind of light I have been able to perceive my self and all aspects of my life in a new way.  I started The Catholic Yogi website in 2013 as a way to communicate with my yoga students, but also as a place to dialogue about how the study of yoga has informed the rest of my life, especially my Catholic practice.  The Catholic Yogi grew out of the encouragement of a dear friend who insisted I start writing about my journey as a Catholic and a Yogi of sorts, as it is, she mentions, quite a unique place to be. I think it is unique because I keep the yoga “yogic” and keep my Catholicism focused on Christ; I don’t change the Sanskrit names or the shapes of the poses when I’m praying or practicing, and I don’t call Christ Isvara when I’m on my mat or in the company of fellow yogis. However, I do pray when I practice.  It seems God has blessed me with a contentment of sorts, as I am not “afraid” of the yoga because I know our God is big, and I am not timid about Christ because I know our God is big. This catholic-yoga dynamic has been a large part of my journey as a yoga teacher and as a Catholic woman.

Balancing faith and yoga practice

People ask me, “How do you balance your yoga and Catholic identities so effortlessly?  They seem to be at odds.”  Actually, there has been a lot of prayerful effort on my part, a lot of asking, questioning, looking, and listening.  At this point in my journey I can say there is too much absence of good in the world to resist embracing the beautiful for fear of blasphemy, especially if that beautiful leads us closer to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  I am a Catholic above all else.  It is only that God has gifted me with yoga, blessed me with its benefits, and used it to turn my face toward Christ that I can call myself “The Catholic Yogi.”  I’m reminded of a Dorothy Day quote:  “You will know your vocation by the joy it brings you. You will know.  You will know when it’s right.”  I feel great joy in my motherhood.  I feel great joy in my prayer life.  I felt a great joyfulness when I started writing at Love and Be Loved.  And after having my babies, when I decided to re-enter the yoga-teaching-world as “The Catholic Yogi,” I felt joyful and at ease.

Yoga as a calling

I feel that God simply wants me to help.  That’s my vocation.  I’m not here to do big, amazing, superhuman things.  I’m just here to help people on their way, and be helped by them.  That’s exactly how yoga works in my life.  I would be no where without God, my family, my friends, and my yoga students.  One of my favorite parts of The Catholic Yogi community is the benefit class we offer four times a year.  It’s a blessing to have so many people willing to come together to help others.  I also love knowing people are able to become healthy and stay healthy through their yoga practice.  When I see the smiles and the happiness after class, when I bump into people in the community and hear how yoga is helping them recover from an illness or injury, reduce stress, avoid different medications, become mindful and aware, or be nicer to their families, I’m humbled to be a part of the gift.  It is good to share the joy.