Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ain't Yoga Practice Somethin'?

Today I felt wronged and a little bit humiliated, so I thought perhaps I should say something about it.

Or I could just chalk it up to yoga practice.
Something I needed to experience today.

At any rate, I really didn't feel called to go yoga today, but since I have a work/study program with the studio I attend, I felt obligated to go to class. It's actually in the job description to go three times a week, minimum. I had skipped my regular day because I'd rented a rototiller and spent the day doing yardwork. I couldn't do it during the week because of work, and I couldn't do it on Sunday, because the rental place was closed. I made up my Saturday class by going in today -- Sunday.

Anyway, I often will let the instructor know prior to class if anything is going on for me in body or spirit that might affect my practice that day. For instance, last week I was sick. I told the instructor and she said to take it easy, drink a lot of water, and sit out of the postures as I needed to. It's pretty standard advice, so this morning when the teacher asked how I was, I routinely said, "Fine."

The truth is, I am fine. However, I'm on my third day of fasting (for cleansing purposes), had an extremely restricted diet (only fruits and veggies) for three days prior to that, was sick the week before (as previously stated), AND had a sunburn from the yardwork. Any one of those things could affect my hot yoga practice that day, and I had all of them. But I knew what my body could take and I knew what I was supposed to do. "Take it easy, drink lots of water, and sit out of the postures as I needed to." And I was pretty sure I'd need to. I feel healthy, but weak, from my illness, fasting preparation, and actual fasting. Plus I may have overdid it on the yardwork. I had had a mild headache and dizziness the day before, and planned on sitting out of one of each of the two sets we did in class -- in effect, doing half the class. I felt that was appropriate for what I could handle that day.

Class started.

We begin each class with a breathing exercise. I did both sets of that. Deep breathing is good. And I was just out of bed, so I had some energy. First set of the first posture -- made it through, but felt light-headed coming out of it. I did as planned, and stood out of the second set.

I didn't fidget. I didn't drink water. I didn't look around.
I wasn't distracting anyone.

I did the same thing for the next two postures. Participated in one set, stood out of the second.

Fourth posture, and the beginning of the balancing series -- the most difficult part of the whole class for me, three postures of varying difficulty balanced on one leg. I did the first set, and promptly felt dizzy enough to bend over slightly with my hands on my knees (still looking in the mirror) to avoid falling over. Suffice it to say I stood out of the second set -- until the instructor said, "Please join in, Valerie." I was mildly surprised. I don't mind being singled out in class. In fact, I've told the instructors to please do so if I need a correction. I don't want my muscles to remember a posture incorrectly. It's harder to un-learn it that way. And then who doesn't love to be commended in class for a great posture, or effort. But this was undermining my own body knowledge. In the teacher's defense, she had no idea what I was going through physically, and was probably only trying to encourage me.

There is, however, a fine line between encouraging someone to try harder, and bullying them or humiliating them to continue when it would be in the student's best interest to not go any further.

I've heard multiple teachers address this encouragement factor way more delicately than my instructor today. The way to phrase it would be, "Valerie, please join in if you can."

Despite her slightly rude way of getting me to participate, I did attempt the second set. And the two sets after that. Against my will. And I was starting to get a headache.

After one set of triangle pose, I sat down on my knees and drank water for the second set. The person to the right and behind me was doing the same thing. Just sayin'.

I forget when it happened again, but shortly after that, on another I'm-too-weak/headachey/dizzy-so-I'm-sitting-out-of-the-second-set, she made an example of me again. Only this time I'm sure everyone could hear the annoyance in her voice. "Come on, Valerie. Please join in."

I'm sorry if I don't live up to her expectations. And, again, she had no way of knowing what was going on for me that day, but that's kinda the point. I would think yoga teachers, of all people, would know that students show up to class every day with the body they have. We all perform differently, we're all at different stages in our practice, and, as I said earlier, a lot depends on how you'll do in yoga that day.

I've spent years actively working on being self-compassionate, and telling myself to not feel guilty for taking a sick day when I need one, or sitting out of a yoga pose when I'm seeing black stars in front of my face and my hearing dims. I've spent years actively working on not caring what others think of me, my methods, or my lifestyle and value structure. Of being enough. Of being myself and being okay with it. Of trusting myself.

The great part of being a bodyworker (I'm a licensed massage therapist), of someone who receives monthly chiropractic care, and who practices yoga regularly is that I've developed a really awesome body awareness. Body awareness, self-compassion, self-respect, (as well as determination, will-power, balance, no more back pain, and better posture) are all things I've gained from having a regular yoga practice. I know what my body can take. I am not a slacker.

But by the second time I was admonished in a half-hour period for not participating, I started crying. Second-guessing myself. Was I not trying hard enough? Was I not good enough?

And then I got mad.

I don't have to be good enough for her.
I have to be good enough for ME.

And I am. I go into every class with an open mind, a willing body, and a desire to do well. I give whatever I have with me that day to the yoga. Nothing less.

How dare she insinuate that I wasn't?

Unfortunately, the rest of the yoga class was a mixture of too much time spent thinking of the instructor's insensitivity, and of my weakness in caring what she thought -- because I finished the class doing both sets of everything, and leaving it with a headache, and totally exhausted in a flu-like sort of way.

At the end of class I was sorry that I'd gone. And that's only happened one other time in the four or five years I've been taking this class. I laid in the room, barely moving, until everyone else had left, took my shower, and left -- without talking to anyone. I was afraid the instructor would confront me again about my performance in class, and I'd cry in front of her, further shaming myself.

I'm going to write an email to the owner, and let her know about the incident, and request that perhaps she could educate that particular instructor on how to encourage participation in less shameful ways. I'm sure she didn't mean anything by it, but it stung nonetheless.

After the benefit of a few hours to contemplate it, I think that today I had the opportunity to re-learn and remember that I know who I am and what my limits are. That despite eternal expectations, I know what is best for me, and that I can trust my own judgement.

So, thank you, Yoga Instructor, for teaching me that lesson today.