Yoga Should Feel Good

I was digging through my drafts over the weekend and ran across this post from a couple years back. I had written it after I tried a new yoga class and was less than satisfied with the instructor and the way the class left me feeling afterwards. It has stuck with me over the last couple of years as a lesson learned about what I never want to do. I can only hope no student ever leaves my class feeling as I did. Here is the old post, written in italics:

While I might not say I fully love my body, I will say I am okay with it. By now I know my
body's strengths, its limitations, and of course the "wish list" for what I would improve on it if there was an easy way to edit your body. But overall I'm comfortable with "me".

Why then, after trying a new yoga class, did I feel inadequate, embarrassed, and have the awful feeling that there was something wrong with me. That somehow, I was not right for yoga?

It always made me sad to hear people say they were hesitant to try yoga. Or that they were intimidated by yoga. I always wondered where that fear came from, and now I know.
Last week I tried a new instructor and a class called "beyond" yoga, which was billed as a regular yoga class.

There were only two of us there, which from the get go makes things a bit awkward. In this particular instructor's style of teaching, she did not "do" the practice with us as I do, instead she watched us, like a hawk. Some people may like the individualized attention but for a highly sensitive person like me it was torture to think she was watching my every move. It didn't help that she verbally, and physically, corrected, and corrected, and corrected us. To the point where even I, a yoga instructor, was lost in all the instructions. Gone was the calming, peaceful feeling I get when I tune into my body during yoga. I was a jumble of nerves as the 1.5 hour class dragged along. The instructor spent a lot of time talking about herself and her recent enlightening experience as she sat on a cliff and meditated. Usually someone who appreciates stories, I was finding nothing inspiring about hers.

Apparently what my body looked like in the poses she talked us through did not fit her vision of what it should look like. Her corrections were based on how she thought it should look on me, without ever asking how it felt. This seems wrong to me, because no two bodies are exactly the same. Even if I felt good in a pose using my props, she corrected me to do it differently. Her constant suggestions made me feel increasing worse about my body and super hesitant to move into the next position.

Wanting it just to end about halfway through the practice I could no longer stay silent and wondered why she couldn't she see/sense/feel how frustrated I was getting. I felt compelled to offer up a reason why I wasn't doing what she asked for so I said: "Well, I am a tight-muscled girl." And her response was, "Oh let's not talk in the negative", and then whispered conspiratorially to the other woman in class whom she knew, "we need to teach her to appreciate her body."  Really? I wanted to walk out but stayed the course, finished the class and got out of there fast.

Epilogue: That place is closed now.

I do appreciate my body. All of it. The things it can do, and the things it cannot do. I think overall I am very in tune with it. Very honest and real about what I do easily and what poses require props and modifications to have me even come close to looking like the poses shown in Yoga Journal. And living in a tight body has helped me understand how alignment is different for each unique body, and made me realize the importance of asking how things feel rather than to make a judgement based on how they look.

After thinking about this experience over time, I'm sad that a fellow yoga instructor made me feel that my body was inadequate for yoga, and then topped that off by making an incorrect assumption about how I felt about my own body. The reality is that I am a tight-muscled girl, I am my father's daughter. I am not very flexible and I am ok with that, and with "me." I work hard to stay as flexible as I can, to open my body up and to work with what I have been given. Perhaps it is just me looking for the silver lining, but I really believe that the tightness of my body gives me great insight into the bodies of my students and how they may feel as we move into poses that require a level of flexibility or strength they don't currently have access to.

No one should have the right to make another person feel that they are not doing it right, that they are not enough, or that they are lacking. No one should be able to take away someone's joy in moving their body or doing yoga in whatever way feels good to them. If you need savasana for the whole hour--as an instructor it delights me to see you take it.

If your yoga instructor currently leaves you feeling bad about yourself or your body and what it is able to do, (especially if the instructor is me), don't go back. But please do find another class or instructor that speaks your language. Yoga should feel good!