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May 22, 2017

Why I like Being a Bad Yoga Student.

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I recently rekindled my relationship with Bikram yoga.

It felt good and familiar to walk back into that hot room and focus totally on the mirror and each individual posture.

It was like a homecoming. But one of those homecomings that reminded me just how much I had changed. Because changed I have.

When I first started Bikram, I got really into it. I completed the 30-day challenge and loved it. I prided myself on the fact that I did not sit out a single posture during those 30 days. I was staunch. I pushed, I stayed with it, and I finished every class victorious. Yes, my body changed; I got stronger and more flexible.

Or so I told myself.

But the truth was I became plagued by injuries and pain, what seemed like issues I was doomed to live with. I practiced more, I pushed more, and I “fell backwards” more rigorously.

I listened intently to every single cue and diligently performed it exactly as I should. I loved it. My ego especially loved just how right I could perform each instruction.

But slowly, and for reasons that seem intertwined with my own over-arching plans for my journey, I started to drift away. Injuries and pain still intact. No miracle cure had occurred.

I returned to another form of movement I also loved—Pole dancing. I couldn’t help but insist on doing the hardest, trickiest, and “strongest” moves I possibly could. Again, my body changed and I got stronger.

Or so I told myself.

Then I decided to add Vinyasa into the mix. I Chaturanga-ed till the cows came home. I Downward Dogged and I planked and I didn’t miss a single vinyasa. No Child’s poses for me.

I was up in the front, doing it right, getting into all the postures, breathing at the right time, relaxing when I should, and being strong when I should. Creating strength and balance and peace.

Turned out, not so much!

All that strength, all that “locking of Lamp Post legs,” all that “scooping into Upward Dog,” and hanging off a pole by one arm, decided to show me just how “strong” I really was.

Injury after injury after injury.

Ankles, wrists, knees, neck, shoulder, and, of course, the ever-present lower-back and middle-back pain I had not yet been able to bend my way out of.

My diligence and need to be the right and perfect student had done nothing other than create some serious imbalances in my body, creating strength that was over-compensating for the weaker areas and thus leaving me hugely susceptible to injury.

I went to a physiotherapist, and all I got were exercises to deal with the specific area of pain. Nothing changed. I went back to yoga, believing it must be the secret to healing my body and finding balance and relief. Each time I left class with more niggles and re-aggravation of injuries.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. I consulted the almighty Google. I found an interesting technique called Feldenkrais and an amazing practitioner here in Queenstown, NZ. It blew my mind. It opened me up to the potential that there is so much more to the body than what even yoga can address. It stirred my interest in how the body can be re-programmed through neural pathways, and how this can be done with very subtle, almost imperceptible movements.

I questioned all those hours I’d pushed in Bikram and pole, or flowed in Vinyasa trying to do it the “right” way.

I started reading about bio-mechanics. I stopped doing yoga and pole dancing. Instead, I read books and practiced how to stand. I practiced activating muscle groups and re-aligning myself as I moved through my day. I started sitting on the floor. I started “flaring” my shoulder blades away from each other while I was driving.

I discovered so much about my body, why it was the way it was, and how I could start to activate it to become more balanced. I noticed the effect small movements would have on the feel and texture of the rest of my body. I noticed what happened with my hips when I lifted my foot arch, or how my neck felt when my arm movement originated from my back.

It was amazing, exciting, and interesting. I was discovering a whole world within my own body, and how engaging it could be spending time exploring it—and I didn’t need a mat or a pole to do it on.

One of my back issues resolved itself. Completely.

All whilst not doing any yoga or pole or seeing any physiotherapists.

This surprised me in a good way. I knew I was getting somewhere and I knew I was beginning to embody a deeper wisdom through the connection to my body.

But I missed the mat. The journey through injury had been so enlightening that I decided to do a Yoga Teacher Training. It was the perfect culmination of a cycle that had begun with trying so hard to be the perfect student.

The training was brilliant. I learned even more and all of it within the context of yoga poses or asana. I enjoyed every minute of it, and yet I had lost the need to prove myself as the good student. In fact, I didn’t really feel like a student, I felt like an eager-to-learn body explorer and I remained open to allowing my own questions to surface.

I applied what I was learning within the context of the experience I had been having with my own body, which, considering the amount of injuries and imbalances I was working through was significant.

I didn’t assume that every cue was gospel any good yoga teacher will tell you it’s not!), instead, I tested it. I explored what it felt like, what effect it had on the rest of my body, and how my body would potentially move if I didn’t interfere too much.

I applied what I learned and played with it. More discoveries, more openings, more healing.

I realized that I, in fact, was a student. But not one of yoga, not one of pole dancing, and not one of bio-mechanics.

I was a student of my own body. I was no longer interested in doing it the “right” way. I wasn’t going to follow instructions to a T anymore. That was never what it was going to be for me. The over-arching plan had always been for me to find a way to listen and commune with my body. And all the trying and pushing that led me further away was the very thing that then led me back to myself through injury.

So am I a yoga student? No. And if I am, I’m not a good one. I like to not straighten my legs if I’m told I should and I like to not roll my shoulders back and down. But, I love being on a mat and finding ways to be in asanas that feel good and are challenging for me.

Because there is one thing that trumps any modality, and that is body wisdom. I’m now a body wisdom student who practices yoga along with other movement practices as frameworks to explore moving within the wise and sentient form that is my body.

So, be a good student—one who seeks out varying and different sources and resources, and ultimately takes it all and applies it through the only teaching mechanism you will ever truly know: your body and its wisdom.
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Author: Roisin Brady
Image: Atlas Green/Unsplash
Editor: Taia Butler

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