December 20, 2022

Dear Yoga Teacher: Here’s What I Wish You Knew.

Dear Yoga Teacher:

We miss each other, sometimes.

I don’t know how to tell you, often don’t tell you, and sometimes am not sure if it should be up to me to tell you.

I guess what I’m saying is I wish you knew, though of course that’s impossible.

I grew from a child to an adult as a gymnast.

My development into an adult body was marked with great control: bodily control and conditioning that gave me strength and talents that will stay with me through the years. Though it’s been a decade (or now, almost decades) since I trained in this way, my body remembers.

The muscles, though less strong, less flexible, still know how to engage in a way that lightens my core, stabilizes my upside-down body through my shoulders, maintains balance while stretching other areas such as in a deep eagle pose. My back still bends in ways most don’t, my handstands balance, my arm stands hit, and I take cues well based on a cellular understanding of how to control my body.

But there’s something else that still lives in my body, and it’s the reason I come to class. Gymnastics taught me to freeze—to hold my breath, suspend my mind, and command my muscles. My training conditioned me to follow instruction without checking in with my limbs. My muscles obeyed commands from anybody—my own mind, my coaches, my teammates. My talents developed, but my breath and judgement were left behind in that formative part of my life.

And so, here I am.

They say the meaning of yoga is “to yolk,” as in to join the body’s movements with the breath. Yoga is my daily practice where any movement forced at the stake of my breath, comfort, or conscientiousness is too costly.

I can handstand, cartwheel, backbend, slow press or fast, jump to stand, and then take an arm balance, but here is the thing: my edge now is to not go to my edge. My edge now is to stay somewhere in between, not letting my muscles or range of motion pull ahead of my overall body’s wellness.

What I wish you knew, dear teacher, is that the types of cues I need are not to “push farther,” “go deeper,” “take the arm stand,” “find my edge.”

You’re right…I’m not at my edge, and for me, that is my edge. That is my challenge, and I am here doing it because I also want to learn to maintain softness in my strength.

The cues that help me, if cues must be given are “come out a little,” “melt your shoulders,” “take your knees if that feels better,” “soften your belly,” “check in with yourself,” “breathe.” Ideally, I’d be the boundary for myself, leaving cues that I don’t find helpful to float in the studio unabsorbed, but there’s this wild thing that still happens when you direct the cue at me, intentionally, I cannot disobey. My muscles still respond in that achieving way of the gymnast, and I go farther. Harder. I stop breathing. I feel disappointed in myself.

Of course, you wouldn’t know.

How would you? I don’t know the answer to that. The gymnast in your class has perfect form in all things upside down: pointed toes, and a butt that clenches automatically under exertion before we remember to release. I’m not saying look for our butts.

I guess I’m just saying, look for us.

The gymnasts.

Help us breathe. Help us soften.

Remind us that’s enough.


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