I am forever telling all the dance students and actors that I work with to stop trying to fit in. Embrace all those things that make you unique. Embrace all those oddities that make you feel uncomfortable in a crowd. Embrace your foibles and flaws. Almost every person that we look up to as role models became who they are by stepping outside of “the normal” and going in their own direction. Yet despite the fact that uniqueness can be an asset, everyone wants to be accepted and appreciated. Those differences can sometimes make us feel like outsiders who cannot connect with our fellow human beings.
It’s very hard not to compare yourself to the people around you or to the people we are exposed to through media and the arena of yoga is no different. Yoga in the North America tends to gravitate between two extremes: the esoteric/meditative and the athletic. By the time I entered the yoga world as an instructor, I wasn’t a perfect fit for either of those modalities.
I am a person who takes a long time to examine and ponder new concepts…be they mental or physical, and I have never bought into anything anyone has told me right away. I have to look at an unfamiliar interpretation from every possible angle until I am one hundred percent comfortable with passing that information on. I can only teach what I believe to be authentic. The yogic philosophy that forms the basis of the esoteric yoga practices is an immense and arduous study. I would need at least another decade of concentrated study to obtain even a sliver of the knowledge that two teachers I admire and practice with have. I’m working on it, but who knows when I will feel qualified to disseminate the information?
Some yoga studios market themselves towards the more athletic clientele where the popular teachers have centered their classes around the dynamic forms of yoga which include many challenging poses. You know the poses I’m talking about. They are the poses that you see on the covers of magazines and all-over social media postings, and they inspire a little awe in the viewer. They are an instant and viable symbol of “I know what I’m doing” for the person executing them. But what happens if you can’t do them?
I know a fair number of teachers who feel inadequate because they can’t achieve one or more of these challenging poses, like inversions. I get it. I can’t do a headstand without a wall for support, and I can’t do arm binds or poses that require arm binds because I have short little T-Rex arms. I’ve beaten myself up for years over this issue but maybe it’s time all of us take a moment for a reality check. These poses are achieved by and are reliant on strength, flexibility and what they rarely mention…body type.
Have you ever really looked at all the old photographs of B.K.S Iyengar doing his yoga poses? It’s an old-fashioned version of circus gymnastics. Look, I’m not taking away from his valuable contributions to the world of yoga, but you’ve got to admit that you need a certain type of body to achieve those positions without causing permanent damage to your body. So, my question is: what value does the execution of these positions bring to my life? Beyond, “I saw it and I conquered it”, what does it add to my life? There is value in the life-long process of shifting the body towards greater mobility and strength which requires self-examination, patience, and an intimate knowledge of your body. However, there is no quick fix solution when you’re looking for employment at a studio where doing some of these poses is a requirement. Plus, I no longer exude youthful vigor. I have wrinkles, I have jowls, I have white hair and nothing is going to change that presentation.
Finding the right studio to work can be a trial-and-error journey and it can take years to find the best fit. My own journey has been a long one and one full of missteps. I needed to be in a place that recognized my value as an older person and appreciate my forty plus years in movement-based work. I obviously bring value to a studio that had an older clientele, and I can’t count how many times I’ve been thanked for my class with the added comment, “It’s nice to have someone nearer my age running the class.” I understand that sentiment completely. There’s nothing quite like watching the brash confidence of an eighteen-year-old explaining the meaning of life to a sixty-plus student. Oh child…talk to me in twenty years and let’s see if you hold the same views.
Although I have finally found my ideal place, I often wonder how long I will remain here? Who knows? Life keeps changing. The population shifts, the clientele changes, the current public thirst for yoga might begin to fade, more popular teachers may come along who are better for the studio’s bottom line. I don’t know, but I plan to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.
The practice itself promotes the idea of authenticity. In the truest of yoga experiences any student should be able to walk into any studio and have a practice with value. There are some real caveats to that perspective ( eg if you wanted a restorative practice you wouldn’t likely want to go to a power flow class or logging some time on your mat to gain some foundational comfort ) otherwise it is unfortunate that people feel pushed in a direction that does not fundamentally embody respect and support for self.
The thoughts expressed here could apply to almost any area: acting, musical performance, and so much else. The author’s introspection definitely rings true for me and I will forward this piece to friends who are also doubting their suitability for a desired course of action.