At least once a week, a student will either say to me before class something about being very sore or having an injury and following that statement with something like, “So please don’t be upset if I don’t do some things or change things,” or a student will come up to me after class and apologize for not doing everything I offered or for modifying postures. I usually follow these statements by asking them why should I be mad about them listening to their body. As a yoga teacher, I love when students know their limits and respect their bodies, whatever that looks like in that moment.
There’s this idea about students having to mimic a teacher exactly or doing every single posture given, and I say (warning adult language) a big, “Fuck that,” to this concept. As a child I developed knee issues shortly before I turned 11 years old. It started with an osteochondroma, a benign tumor on the growth plate of my right knee, then several boughts of bursitis, Osgood-Schlatter Disease, and Runner’s Knee. I also suffered a break of the talus bone in my right ankle at the end of my freshman year in high school. I was lucky to have a dance teacher who taught me to listen to my body, and at times who made me take breaks or would change choreography because I was stubborn and would ignore what my body’s demands to take it easier. She taught me, maybe unknowingly, that poses and movements can be tailored to suit the body performing said poses and movements. For me, I believe there is not a single perfect pose that everyone needs to strive toward. Instead, I believe each individual body has a perfect pose for each individual moment.
One day I had experienced a student talking poorly of their practice. I had commented how I love to watch her practice, and she immediately replied trying to be tongue in cheek with, “Because it’s so lazy?” I was taken aback. No, her practice was wonderful because she listened. She modified. She moved with ease. She took breaks when she needed them. A day or two after that encounter I found myself reading How Yoga Works by Michael Roach, when I came across a paragraph that helped affirm my belief.
It was during an exchange between Friday, a female traveler who was jailed and acting as the local yoga teacher, and the small son of the jail’s sergeant, Ajit. Friday wants Ajit to teach the other boys that day. Ajit agrees saying he’d teach the boys giving and taking, breathing, etc., then get Friday when it’s time for the poses. Friday makes it clear she wants Ajit to teach everything, including the poses. Ajit quickly says he can’t because he has a crippled leg and can’t do the poses perfectly himself. Friday is quick to reprimand him, gently.
“I took his scarred cheek in my palm, and he let me, innocently — did he know it already looked better? ‘There’s something you have to understand, Ajit. It’s very simple and very true. A pose isn’t supposed to look like anything. Nobody can do a pose so it looks perfect. A pose is perfect only when you are doing the very best you can –gazing steadily, breathing sweetly, and thinking of how it will help someone else. And I watch you every day, doing lots of these perfect poses. And that’s the kind of poses I want our wonderful boys to learn.'”(How Yoga Works)
If you are planning on apologizing to me or any other instructor, then stop and ask yourself the following questions first. Did you breathe consciously, sweetly, actively? Did you focus and use your drishti? Did you think of how this might help someone else? Did you do your best in that moment? If so, then you have nothing to apologize for. If not, you still don’t need to apologize to me. Take a breath, release judgement, and move on.