By: Danielle Wilson
I taught a class recently where every single person in the room landed in a given pose completely differently. It was the epitome of an all levels class, with experience varying, and body types even more so. The vast array of physical expression became a beautiful representation of life itself—at least, that was (and is) my perspective, but it struck me that not everyone views this variance in positive a light. My hope would be that most teachers embrace this eclectic mix of practitioners—in classes that are not specific to level—and there is a sense of inclusion cultivated by the leader of the space. So, for sake of conversation, I’m more so gearing the depth of this thought towards students (which, of course, are teachers, too, so perhaps I digress). For the people who find themselves on their mats each day, time and again, or even just once in a lifetime: let’s get down to exactly why you should be celebrating your differences throughout class!
As funny as it is, I like to remind my students that, in short, yoga was created by a bunch of skinny dudes living in the mountains. Yes, yes, I know narrowing anyone down to a general cliché is frowned upon, but really! The postures we know, and practice, originated on a pretty specific body type. With a small, boxy frame, and long, lanky limbs, the canvas used to experiment with asana, creating the “correct” way to execute each pose, was limiting. I can’t stress enough how important this foundational fact is to remember as you practice! Even if you are the strongest and most flexible in the room, sometimes adjustments can and should be made to accommodate, and benefit, the incredible body YOU have! So, when your instructor provides you with options throughout practice—take them! Even if you think you’ve got it already, and maybe you do, I encourage you to experiment with as many variations as you can before landing on the version that works for you. Think of the time spent on your mat as an everlasting investigation, a quest to discover that place that makes your body go “mmmm, ahhh!”
As most of us have heard, time and time again, our mats are nothing other than mirrors that reflect our reality outside of practice. When we apply this concept to a bird’s eye view, we begin to understand the perspective I found in observing and appreciating my own multi-leveled class. Nature thrives on variation: look at the trees, not a single one identical to the next, yet all so beautiful and full of life in their own way. Hitting closer to home, consider our own fingerprints—an inspiring design unique to us, separating us from the whole. When something new is created, nature grips on with love and evolution in a fresh and exciting direction takes hold. The same can be said about yogis sharing a space together, each posture and flow serving as a guide, but the expression of them manifesting into an individualized work of art!
Once we find this acceptance, and more importantly, this celebration of how our own practice differs from the people around us, not only do we open up our hearts and minds to discovering the charming nuances of our practice, but we also begin releasing the weight of judgment and comparison. It can be challenging enough to meet practice with a calm and quiet mind but piling the feat of undying comparisons on top of that can be quite discouraging. With this, we’re met with thoughts of being less than, undervalued (by others, or ourselves), and dive into a solely human experience of unworthiness in the face of other. Our world is slowly growing into a home which loves and embraces differences in race, sexuality, opinion, thought, so why not allow that energy to cultivate itself through the reflection on our mats? We deserve it! No matter where we lie in our practice, the fact that we made it there—that we showed up to get to know ourselves, to investigate, to nurture, and to celebrate—that is what matters! So, let the expression happen the way it will in you, on you, and for you. It’s the piece of art you never knew you were creating!