“A kind word is like a Spring day.”
“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you were allergic to peanuts, would you order the Pad Thai? No, it’s just not worth it. You’d find something else on the menu that wasn’t going to harm you.
To keep your body safe and satisfied as you practice yoga, it can be helpful to think of yoga poses in terms of allergies. When it comes to poses that are challenging to us physically, some things we are allergic to, others we have an intolerance, and sometimes we just need to give them a try.
Often practitioners are lured too far into a pose or to do a pose they shouldn’t. There are a myriad of reasons including a student’s competitive nature, lack of restraint, poor cueing, limited options from the teacher, and misunderstanding the ability of the body. It can be easy to “consume” poses that we shouldn’t. But, framing them as we would food allergies might help create a healthy perspective for our practice of asana.
There are some poses that each of us shouldn’t do. It might be because of injury, our unique construction, or some other factor. For example, someone with a neck injury has no business coming into halasana or plough pose. It doesn’t matter if the yogi next to them is doing the pose, the pose is not a viable option for them. This has nothing to do with how “good” or “advanced” their practice is or whether or not they are a quality human being. They are just shouldn’t do the pose. Where we have pose allergies, alternative postures are a must.
Sometimes allergies aren’t full blown. They are just intolerances. You may be sensitive to dog dander, but not completely harmed by it. So instead of any dog, you get a hairless one, one with minimal dander exposure, or you take an allergy medication. The same goes for yoga poses. Maybe you don’t have optimal range of motion in your knees, but you can still safely do virasana or hero’s pose with the support of a block or blanket. Where we have pose intolerances, props and modifications can help the poses be tolerable and safer for our bodies.
Give it a Try
When my kids were little I used to tell them, “you have to try something 27 times before you know you like or not”. There’s nothing scientific to this number. They were little, and it was hard for them to remember how many times they tried something. Some yoga poses fall into this category. There are situations where there are no allergies or intolerances, but we may not think we like them. Like a lima bean or another vegetable you may not like. That may be the case, but maybe we should give them a try. For me it’s a pose like mandukasana or frog posture. This intense groin and inner hip opener is challenging for me. Even though it might not be my favorite it can be good for me. Props and modifications may still be warranted here to make the poses more palatable.
Hopefully this change of perspective will help cultivate an approach to poses that encourages you to do what is right just for you. Replacing judgement with objectivity for challenging postures can encourage us to develop a practice that best fits the needs of our own bodies. Enjoy the practice even more when you order the best things from the menu just for you!
About seven years ago, I created a personal challenge of practicing every day for 30 days. I had flirted with yoga, practicing sporadically for years and was motivated to immerse in the practice. It was such a great learning experience. At the time, I preferred Power or more challenging vinyasa classes. I would practice 3-4 days a week, but my practice didn’t really extend past that time on my mat in the yoga studio.
One of the first things I learned was that in order to maintain 30 days of practice, I would have to manage my energy. No longer could I just go a couple days a week and completely burn out over the hour or more of practice. I had to learn to pace myself. Part of that was broadening the types of classes I attended, including basic flow, gentle evening classes, and Yin. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it on Power alone!
After that 30 days, I enrolled in my first teacher training program, started teaching, and since then have experienced a major growth in my practice.
The lessons on managing my physical energy have grown and and expanded to other areas of my life. I started to become aware of how I was spending my time, resources, emotional, and spiritual energy. Greater awareness of my highs and lows, motivations and procrastinations, energy sources and spends, helped me manage my energy more wisely.
Spending Energy. The offering of energy may seem like a no-brainer if it’s a situation where you are energized by the spend. For example, offering your time and talent to a job or mission that you love. There are many times when I am teaching that I’m so saturated by the love of my work as a yoga teacher that it feels like I’m spending nothing at all.
But, what about when it depletes you? I would make the case that spending and even over-spending is okay if done consciously and wisely. There are certain missions and causes that just take a lot out of you. And you know that going into the experience. I think back to the times when my kids were little and I was the poster-child of the over-tired, over-worked, barely-holding-it-together, mom. There were many days where I spent all that I had and more. But, it was worth it.
It’s always okay to say no. There are times when it’s determined that the energy is not worth the spend. Saying no allows you to say yes to something else. Which brings us to…
Prioritizing Energy. Often there are lots of areas that need our attention. So, once you’ve decided that something is worth your time and energy it’s okay, even imperative that you prioritize. It’s one thing to say that my family or my faith is the most important thing in my life. But, if I don’t make time for them or if I don’t have anything to give when I’m interacting with them, are they really a priority?
A couple of years ago, I was in the hurricane of activity that precedes the Christmas holiday. Feeling stressed and pulled too many directions, I stopped for a bit and thought about what was really important. Time with those closest to me was the a priority. So, things that were not as important started to fall out, including our annual Christmas card. This might seem small or even trivial, but just letting go of that one task made a huge difference in the level of tension in our home. We put our time into wrapping presents and baking cookies, it turned out to be a really enjoyable Christmas.
Receiving Energy. With all of this prioritizing and spending, it’s important to consider the energy that you’re receiving. If we continue to spend without replenishing, then we go bankrupt. You can think of maintaining energy just as you would taking care of a car.
Regularly, we need to fuel the car or fill it with gas. This is our day-to-day care. Getting enough sleep, eating energizing foods, managing our health, feeding our minds, quieting our thoughts, and exercising our bodies all fall into this category. Based on our daily activity, the amount of “fuel” may vary, but there’s a perfect mix that is unique to each of us.
Then there are the intermittent service requirements. Maybe not as regularly, but just as important are really focused refueling. This may include extended rest, retreat/sabbatical, continued education, massage, or whatever it is that fills your tank. Again this is very unique to each of us.
It’s important to look at what is best for refueling and what you should avoid or repel. Some energy that is offered can be toxic or harmful. Be sure to consider human interactions with family, friends, and your community. Too often we remained attached to these sources of energy out of obligation. This is one of those areas, while difficult, it can be better to say no and say yes to something else.
Here are some of the questions that I regularly ask of myself. This type of introspection allows me to check on my energy give and take. It gives me an opportunity to tune in to what is working and what may need to change.
- Does this choice energize or deplete me?
- Is this worth my energy?
- Is this an appropriate response?
- What replenishes me?
- What opportunities do I have to refuel?
- What other demands are there on my energy?
- Does my energy spend align with what is important to me?
- Is the exchange of energy life-giving or toxic?
- Am I contributing positively in the exchange of energy?
- Am I receiving energy that creates a negative or harmful impact?
Your energy allows you to live truthfully and share your essence, so spend and refuel wisely!
“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.”