I Became a Yoga Teacher and Got a Lot Worse at Yoga
I know that sounds like a clickbait title. Like I am trying to mislead you with a confusing statement that I am obviously going to twist in some way. But that statement is absolutely how I felt for the first few months as a yoga teacher. Why does yoga suddenly seem so much harder? Why can’t I take poses as far as I used to be able to to? And why the heck am I suddenly such a prop-user? I could build a small castle with all of the blocks that I am stacking in my practice!
My 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training
When I completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training, I felt like my views on all of my previous yoga classes had been shattered. I had always practiced yoga in a busy class at a mega-gym where I rarely, if ever, got one-on-one attention from the teacher. Then I took my practice to my house where I began following routines from my favorite YouTube yogi, Yoga with Adrienne (which I totally recommend to anyone wanting to get started!). But here was my fatal flaw in my practice: I based my perception of my success on if I could do what the teacher was doing, what my neighbor was doing, and especially what I had done the day before. Gasp. Yes. I wasn’t completely present. in the moment. with my body. on my own mat. minding my own dang business. (Despite being told to at the start of class.)
I noticed recently in a class that there are two particular poses that look nothing like they used to for me prior to doing my teacher training.
A Couple of Examples
First, when I do triangle pose, I can no longer touch the ground. I either prop my bottom hand on my shin or on a block. It bothered me a lot actually when I was challenged to not flop my body over and contort to try to touch the ground like I thought I was supposed to. But now, with modifications, I have found that I actually like to do triangle pose. It feels good through my side body and gives me a deeper stretch by paradoxically not going as deep into the pose.
Below is a great guide to triangle pose from Yoga Outlet.
Half Pigeon Pose
The second pose that I do differently now is half pigeon. As a teenager in my first yoga classes, I could easily plant my hip down to the ground with my entire thigh supported. Yet, when I went through my teacher training, I began to appreciate that actually, all I was doing was twisting through my spine and very passively dropping into the pose. So now, in a busy class with plenty of neighbors to see me do it, I place a block under my hip and actually feel that I can peacefully rest in half pigeon.
And here is another great guide from Yoga Outlet for half pigeon pose.
And you know why I make these modifications? Because I have hyper-mobile shoulders and a condition called a femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) that makes it very difficult to contort my shoulders or to maximally flex and externally rotate my hip. But before I actually started listening to what my body was telling me, I felt embarrassed to modify for these conditions. So instead, I tried to push through them (and the pain that the poses caused).
My Current Yoga Teaching
In my current practice as a yoga teacher, I have the advantage of working with students, all of whom I also treat in physical therapy. This means that I know their medical history, their aches and pains, the name of their cats and dogs, and likely what they ate for breakfast last week. But when I walk in as a student to the yoga studio for my personal practice, I have never had the teacher ask me how my painful hip is doing that day. So that means that she/he has no authority to tell me how deeply I should take my pose. It is my prerogative to take out a block whenever I need to or to stand up and shake out my cramping muscle or uncomfortable wrist. And if you are ever in my class that I am teaching, I give you the same permission to take authority over your own body.
If any yoga teacher tells you otherwise, they are probably a bad teacher and potentially a danger to your practice.
So since becoming a yoga teacher, I objectively look like a more novice yogi. I take lots of breaks and use props constantly. But once I shook off my own ego, I began to appreciate that that is what a yoga practice is. It is permission to play, fail, and do something different than what you did yesterday.