Since I love my mom and dislike hurricanes, I decided to head upstate for the weekend and combine natural disaster preparedness with family time.
I was hoping to try out the local studio where my mom’s been practicing ever since her joyful discovery of yoga’s benefits a few months back, but there weren’t any classes on the schedule beyond Saturday morning, and I didn’t realize that until it was too late.
So instead, I’m turning my focus to helping my mom develop a home practice. Because as much as I love taking classes, I’ve found that the true benefits of yoga come more from a little bit each day than from a lot once a week. And in presenting postures in a parent-friendly fashion, I’m reminded how important it is to take an accessible approach.
My mom doesn’t yet need to know it is possible to jump back into chaturanga, because she is competitive enough to want to try that move even if her upper body strength isn’t ready for it. So the version of surya namaskar she is learning–and the one I prefer, anyway–foregoes chaturanga for the simpler knees-chest-chin lowering of the body.
Once she is confident that she can perform sun salutations, then she can explore variations. But competence and comfort must come before complexity.
I was reminded of this over the past week when, in two different advanced classes, the same challenging pose was taught in entirely different ways.
First, on Wednesday, I had the immense privilege of taking a class led by the anatomy instructor from my teacher training. I cannot say enough wonderful things about this man and his teaching style: kind, informative, empowering, etc. So even though his class was billed as a Master Class on the studio schedule, I knew I would not feel pressured to perform beyond my abilities.
It was that comfort and security that enabled me to fully relax and connect with my body–and I did end up hitting a milestone in my personal practice when I landed crow pose for a few solid seconds. (Yay for arm balances!) But what I didn’t do was make it all the way into Hanuman pose.
And I probably never will, which is fine by me. I have little use for the splits. However, the way the pose was taught to me on Wednesday made me feel like I could get there someday if I wanted to. We worked up to the posture slowly, used blocks for support, and were reassured that there was absolutely nothing “less than” about needing that support.
But the way the pose was presented less than twenty-four hours later, I felt inadequate even trying.
Why the difference? The second teacher was certainly competent and on the whole her class was excellent; I was impressed by her slow and steady pacing that centered on breath counts–an important baseline given the intensity of the flow that she taught. But instead of identifying Hanuman pose as challenging and explaining modifications, she simply called out the name and expected her students to know what she meant–and perhaps with good reason, since nearly everyone else in the room readily slid into the splits.
In both classes I was borderline out of my league, but I only felt that way in one of them. Part of the disparity was that on Wednesday I knew the teacher’s style and on Thursday I didn’t, but more significantly, on Wednesday I was gently guided and on Thursday I felt pushed: There was an assumption of ability that, reasonable or not (it was an advanced-level class, after all), intimidated me beyond a point of comfortable exploration.
Thankfully, since I’d just experienced an alternative approach, I pushed my initial feeling of inadequacy aside and simply applied Wednesday’s lessons to Thursday’s class in order to safely modify my posture. But had I not been bolstered by outside knowledge, I would have felt out of place and unworthy–two sensations I never want to provoke in my students.
So as I teach my mom a short sequence that meets her personal needs, I’ll be extra careful how I introduce ideas and set up expectations–and no offense to the legendary leaping monkey, but Hanuman pose will not be on the agenda.