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body says no

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

There have been a few things that have popped up over the last couple of weeks that all circle back to this:

There will be many, MANY, yoga poses that you will not be able to do.

I don't mean asana that you can't do today. I mean asana that you won't EVER be able to do. Have a littly cry now, get it out the way, and then we can go on to celebrate what "Practice and all is coming"*** actually means.

"Oh, FFS." Me, out loud, on reading last week a yoga teacher's earnest declaration that if you just practise every day you will be able to achieve pose x.

You see it all over socials ~ if you practise every day you will be able to Headstand like a boss, Lotus like a queen, Down Dog like a ... a dog, and just generally slay.

My FFS wasn't even cross. It was a weary, deflated little thing, bored that this trite giddy-up is still being bandied about and, worse, being bandied about by yoga teachers who should know from their own experience, their own practice, that they're telling a whopper.

Yoga is for every body. Yoga. Not asana. It's a very important distinction. Let's start with Downward Facing Dog because I posted on Instragram about it recently and it's sort of relevant here.

1. Downward Facing Dog. Not everyone holds a torch for it but, yay, I love Downward Facing Dog! Here's me above, in my usual DFD. But wait, what? I can't get my heels down? Calling myself a yoga teacher? The nerve of me!

In 24 years of asana practice, my heels and the floor have only ever been able to blow kisses to one another across the divide. It's all very Montague v Capulet.

Erm, except here. But the only reason they've managed to grab a quick snog is because I've foreshortened the pose; I moved my feet closer to my hands. Some would view this a success and a well-done-me.

But compare the spine and neck in each picture: the first equals long and spacious, the latter toxic and tragic. For never was a story of more woe ...

As we can see, heels down do not make a "better" pose. If it happens, woot. If it doesn't, also woot. After all, there is nothing you can do to alter your foot and ankle biomechanics or make-up of your connective tissues.

Moving on.

2. Headstand. Insta loves a headstand. Hell, I love a headstand!

Why do I love 'em?

Because I can do 'em.

Why can I do 'em?

Because body proportions.

Put simply, my upper arms are long enough to give my head and neck plenty of room so that when I lift up the weight is transferred through my forearms rather than my head.

Often it is a question of developing the necessary strength and technique but if you're still feeling that, despite years of assiduous headstand practice, your head wants to cave in and your neck crumple to the thickness of an After Eight, stop. It may be that your upper arms are too short. Without some sort of Frankensteinian operation, Sirsasana is not for you. Legs up the Wall* will do the job just fine.

3. Lotus Pose. Who doesn't love a Lotus? Turns out loads of you. In fear of repeating myself, I love 'em.

Why do I love 'em?

Because I can do 'em.

Why can I do 'em?

Skeletal articulation, innit.

No slavish practice or blood sacrifices to the mat demons. My hip sockets are situated on my pelvis in the exact right position to make sweet, sweet love to my femurs ...


... and now I feel slightly sick, but anyway. If you couldn't sit cross-legged as a child, let Padmasana blossom in the laps of others.

Today's Take-Home

Did you notice that the poses I love are the poses I can do to my satisfaction and that are naturally comfy for my body? It's human nature to gravitate towards the stuff that's easy and makes us feel pumped about ourselves. When we can't do a pose, there's a pernicious feeling of not being good enough, of shame. And this shame is usually blanketed in frustration, anger, sadness or grief. Who wants to feel like that? Friends, we want to feel f-i-i-n-e all the time!

But to feel fine we must, ironically, smash, nail and crush.

"Practice and all is coming" has been hijacked by the asana enthusiasts who misinterpret it as "keep trying and you'll get there". But it actually means the opposite. It means just turn up, stop trying, stop forcing, drop expectations, detach, experience the joy in what is here for us in this moment not some nebulous future in which we might drop into splits for the gram.

Think of practice as a noun rather than a verb**. With the practice of yoga we have everything all ready. There is no need to perfect anything.

As I said at the start, there will be a bazillion asanas that your body isn't built for, whether through proportions, articulation, tissue composition, age, injury, illness ... No amount of trying will ever change that. Not weekly, not daily. NOT EVER. Do you plan to stay upset, peevish and less-than for that long? Your ability to do asana (and I say this all. The. Time) is no reflection on your worth. You are simply making shapes with your body.

Acceptance of this fact is one of the greatest opportunities to practise yoga there is.

*other upside-down alternatives are available.

**the American spelling of verb and noun being the same has added to the confusion.

***by disgraced Ashtanga founder Sri K Pattabhi Jois. *sigh* Another yoga guru who couldn't keep his bits and pieces to himself.

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