There’s no such thing as a perfect yoga pose

There’s no such thing as a perfect yoga pose

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Each month I write for OM Yoga Magazine – here is my column from November 2012

Since 2012 I’ve written a monthly column and the odd feature for OM Yoga Magazine. This column was originally published in the November 2012 issue:

A mild thoracic curve means my chaturanga can look slightly lopsided. However, I only noticed this after observation in a mirror and working one-to-one with a teacher. X-rays and scans confirmed mild scoliosis
as well as spondylolisthesis, so the wonky chaturanga then made sense. Not long ago I had the experience of being in a workshop where an advanced teacher tried to (literally) wrench my shoulder up and back in chaturanga to straighten me out, despite my explanation of my physical imbalances. Instead of listening, he stared at me blankly and said, “You’re not doing it right”.

These experiences greatly inform how I approach teaching. They also remind me what an honour and privilege and responsibility it is. If I were less confident, that experience with the advanced teacher would have upset me. (Let’s save the ‘what is advanced?’ discussion for another time!) I like to remember the words of Judith Lasater who I studied with earlier this year. During training, one of the many things she said that stuck with me in regard to yoga asana is that there is no right or wrong – there is only safe. It’s important that we do our best to be safe in our postures.

I enjoy one-to-one yoga sessions a lot. Each person I guide through practice teaches me something. Every body is different. There is no perfect yoga pose. One of the things I love about working one-to-one is being able to guide someone to finding the expression of a posture that works best for them. Together we can take more time to get back to basics, break down poses and tailor their practice. My hope is that within this the yogi comes to experience that the practice they are developing is about more than touching their toes. When a client told me she had practised a couple of poses on her own at home because she liked how they made her feel afterwards I was delighted. Delighted that she felt confident enough to do some asana practice on her own and that she was finding her own unique experience of yoga that went beyond where to place her feet in trikonasana. Even better that this was for her self-care and not to please the teacher.

Paula Hines is a London-based yoga teacher (www.ucanyoga.co.uk) – if you are in London and interested in 1-2-1 or Small Group Private Yoga, please click here for details.

If you’d like to read a selection of my past OM Yoga Magazine columns and a FREE 24 page preview of the latest issue at my U Can Yoga website, please click here.

How a Panda and a Tortoise helped me to put things in perspective

How a Panda and a Tortoise helped me to put things in perspective

Not Master Oogway, but a v old tortoise I met in Morocco :)

Not Master Oogway, but a v old tortoise I met in Morocco

 

December has been quite a contemplative month.  Despite it being a very yin time, it’s felt very eventful internally.  Mixed emotions. Darkness and light.  Among a number of things, during December:

–   I got my official teaching certificates, registered with Yoga Alliance and got insured

–   I got confirmation of my spondy and scoliosis

Both are interlinked and, for me, both take a bit of processing, for differing reasons. Consequently, the 25 Day Yogathon has been the backbone (no pun intended) running through the month, helping me to do just that.  I’ll admit I struggled with the refined sugar thing, especially in the run-up to Christmas week, but the biggest revelation for me was meditation – something I always found difficult before.  I’ve continued beyond the 25 days – currently I’m spending 20 minutes a day in seated meditation.

My 25 Day Yogathon was completed on Christmas Day, which I spent with my family. After breakfast, having been banished from the kitchen I noticed that Kung Fu Panda was on TV.  (For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s the sweet tale of a panda called Po who becomes an unlikely kung fu hero after being chosen as the Dragon Warrior.) I’d never seen the movie before and seeing as I am at heart a kid masquerading in the body of a 30something year old woman, I decided to check it out.  As I watched, I related to Po – a square peg that doesn’t look like it will fit the round hole of their dream.  I’m not suggesting I resemble a cute, furry giant Panda maybe aside from carrying a little more junk in the trunk post-Christmas. Though like Po, I know what it’s like to be seen as the underdog, and who hasn’t ever eaten when they’ve been upset?  (Never? Are your pants a little bit on fire…?  Ok, I’ll take your word for it, but I know Po and I aren’t the only ones who’ve been passengers on the emotional eating bus at some stage.) But I digress…

There’s a bit (well, more than one bit) in the film where the Oogway, the wise old tortoise kung fu master says in response to protests that Po cannot possibly be the Dragon Warrior:

“There are no accidents”.

I attended a Winter Solstice ceremony just a few days before Christmas where there was much reflection on the past year, acknowledgement of what had passed, gratitude expressed and the setting of intentions for the next twelve months.  That combined with my experience on the Yogathon, reminded me of all the things over the past year which have brought me to this point.  This time last year I was in a very different place.  It’s been one of the most transformational years of my life so far.

Maybe there are no accidents…

Via a bit of serendipity, I started having sessions with a brilliant yoga therapist this month. After my initial assessment, I quickly realised that this is going to take more work and time than I’d initially thought.  I admit, in that moment I felt a bit ‘woe is me’.  I wanted to curse the timing of it all (WHY did this have to happen right after teacher training?!) and wondered if I could really do this.

My yoga therapist must have seen how dejected I looked and said, “I think that sometimes, these things are sent.  I’ve been doing this for a long time and you know – the wounded ones are always the best teachers”.

The kind of teacher I will grow into remains to be seen, but I really appreciated hearing something like that, especially from such an experienced teacher and teacher trainer.  I am just beginning but I know that already this situation has hugely impacted how I feel about teaching.  I didn’t embark on this route to look or sound cool when people ask me what I do, or to present the image of a ‘perfect’ yogi. Instead, it is a huge step in terms of being truthful about what’s important to me. And it’s made that desire to be a good teacher even stronger.

So that, contrary to my initial response, makes me feel that the timing is probably ideal.

While I am not big on new year’s resolutions, I did set one intention for next year at the Winter Solstice ceremony. Sharing it with everyone at the ceremony felt far more profound than I’d imagined it would be, so it somehow doesn’t feel right to announce it here.  But I (and about a dozen other people) know.  And that feels right.

As I move into 2012, I travel not just with a little more junk in the trunk (which I am not knocking by the way – it makes me more huggable after all 😉 ), but with a little more faith and courage too.  If I can be anywhere near as courageous as Po the Panda then I’ll be getting somewhere :).

Whatever your intentions for 2012, I wish you a Wonderful year ahead.

Can you say ‘Spondylolisthesis’?

Well done if you can!  I personally still find it a bit of a tongue twister.

The anatomy geeks out there will know exactly what this is, but for those of you who’ve never heard of this or are a bit rusty on the old anatomy front, to quote fellow yogi, Jennifer Aniston from her classic L’Oreal commercial, “Here’s the science bit”:

“The term spondylolisthesis refers to the anterior slippage of one vertebra on another, most commonly L5 on sacrum or L4 or L5.  This can be caused by a fracture of the ‘pars interarticularis’; often the result of high impact falls as in a skiing accident.  It can also be a congenital defect’” – Chris Swain

Chris is the anatomy guru from my YTT course – an award-winning osteopath and a yoga practitioner and teacher for over 20 years. He even has a name given to him by his teacher who he lived with in a temple (though he told us he never uses it now – probably not so necessary at home in the UK, but that’s by the by).  Basically, Chris knows his stuff.

Anyhow, it looks like spondylolisthesis might be what has been causing my sciatica according the x-rays I saw of my spine in the chiropractor’s consultation room.  In my case it looked like L5 had slipped onto S1, hence the pressure on the sciatic nerve.  I also noticed a nice ‘S’ shaped curve in my spine – right thoracic scoliosis – an unexpected, though not entirely surprising bonus.

“I have a tilted womb – welcome to getting older world! Can I be in your gang?” 

That was one of the first responses I got from a friend after sharing the news. This is why I love my mates.

Pain is a great motivator and it was pain that got me to chiropractor’s office.  In the month or so running up to final YTT assessments backbends had gone from slightly uncomfortable to definitely painful.  (As it happens, extension of the spine – backbending – is contra-indicated for spondylolisthesis, which would explain the pain I was experiencing.) After the best part of three frustrating years of trying to confirm the cause of my sciatica and patching myself up in between, this was the final straw.  Yoga is the only thing that has consistently helped, but now I needed to take some other action.

Maybe because I am in denial or maybe because I am stubborn, I am getting a second opinion.  I want to be absolutely sure about what’s going on so that I can make an informed decision with regard to what to do about treatment.  I’ve just had more x-rays done, at hospital this time, and get those results back with my doctor in about a week’s time.  Though before I went to get changed out of the rather flattering hospital gown after the x-rays were done, the radiographer did comment, “Oh yeah, you can see the scoliosis straight off”.   I suspect she wasn’t meant to say this, as when I asked if she saw anything in the lumbar spine area she got a bit flustered and mumbled something about just seeing the curve of my lower back.

Crap.  Is that a bad sign?  That got me really paranoid about what she did or didn’t see on the x-rays…

I’m having an MRI scan tomorrow which I am really glad about.  It should confirm what’s going’s on – whether it is definitely spondylolisthesis or something else.  But I’ve started to feel a bit anxious about it.  Not about the scan itself though. I’ve started to wonder about the potential outcomes and what that might mean for me teaching-wise.  I know my mind should not be racing ahead and speculating, but this wasn’t quite the situation I had envisaged right after graduation.

My practice has changed over the past weeks – less frequently and certainly no backbends, for now. And no dynamic practices which has been frustrating.  It’s shown me in a big way just how attached I’ve become to my physical practice.  And with other stresses going on in my life, my practice – the thing I would usually count on – is in flux.  And I don’t feel comfortable with that yet.

I went to a class recently where the teacher said that injury can be a gift.  An opportunity to re-focus. That’s how I am trying to see this time.  The learning never stops and, I feel, there are some new lessons for me to learn here.