One of the biggest challenges in teaching asanas lies not in teaching different levels but teaching different people of different levels. My key word here is different people not in the sense of age, gender or any physical appearance, but the way they are.
I’ve had students who tend to always stay in their comfort zone, and I’ve had students who don’t understand the limits of their own body. The latter being the most frustrating of the two.
It’s so frustrating because I am genuinely afraid that they will hurt themselves. Yoga is sometimes jokingly known to physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths as keeping them in business – meaning quite plainly that people who do yoga often hurt and injure themselves, thus keeping them in business. The sad part is there is complete truth to that. And I see it in my students.
A few days ago, I had two students. A 70-something-year-old lady who was overweight and a fit 30-year-old. At the beginning of class, I had a talk with the older lady (who I previously had one-on-one sessions with, giving me a good idea of where she was in her practice, which is beginner beginner). Before the class began, I told her that we have different levels in the class today, please listen to your body, and take child’s resting pose anytime you need to, lie on your back and whichever option is the easiest. She acknowledges.
I have taught multi-level many times before, usually with younger people trying to be competitive, where slight adjustments would bring them back a step. But this time, it was very worrying, because of her age, her weight, and her lack of listening skills – it was such a challenge.
So what happens? About 20-minutes into the class, we are into tree pose and there she is trying to take tree pose on the calf, although our lessons before she always took tree in kickstand with both toes on the ground. Why the sudden change? Is it the need to be competitive, or she didn’t understand me and took my words of advice as a challenge instead?
She falls out a few times before deciding kickstand is the best, meanwhile the other girl has her foot right by her groin. The younger girl has practiced yoga for years, and me, almost a decade. The entire class was this tone, I offered multiple level options and she refuses each time. I would go to her make adjustments and tell her to back up in the posture. But it was constantly happening that about midway I had to tell her by name, “Ms. X, stay here. Ms. Y let’s take it a little further.”
Then we come into pigeon, I give Ms. X her option (one on her back). And I proceeded to move into full pigeon with Ms. Y, forehead on ground. With my forehead on the ground, Ms. X sneakily gets into pigeon pose. Not even 3 seconds laters complains her hip hurts. I look up baffled to see her in pigeon and completely worried because old people and hip problems are not a good combination. I check on her, she’s fine and proceeds back on her back. Then my sense of worry turns into complete frustration.
So I say, a little forcefully perhaps, “Please, please, please, listen to your body! If you’re not quite there yet, you need to be patient, it takes time for strength and flexibility to work.” Obviously directed at her, since there are only 2 students in the room. The lesson continues into savasana and she hastily leaves the class. I believe this was enough to turn her off from my classes as she hasn’t shown up for two days.
At first, I was a little sad that she chose not to follow-up her yoga sessions and that her choices have made it less enjoyable for her, and also for me. But then it clicked.
I remember having a talk with her at the beginning of our sessions, where she told me of her gastric bypass surgery and fat removal that got her from 300 pounds to 130, her facelift and how she felt younger than friends her age. Why she was here at the resort was because she had gained weight and she wanted to be healthy again.
It clicked, it clicked, it clicked. She was binge exercising and dieting. She neglected her body a second time and the weight was back and she wanted to reset. But you cannot reset your body overnight. It’s impossible. You care for it like a garden. It takes time, love and patience to see the garden bloom. I believe she feels that all that time, money and energy spent on all those surgeries to lose weight and get young would be for nothing. She made such a huge change to become “young” and “healthy” but never maintained it, and now she wanted to flick the switch again. Seeing younger girls in yoga clothes probably wasn’t easy as they reminded her of her age.
Even though I think I lost a client, I believe it was the bitter medicine she needed. Her character perhaps required a more direct approach. I just hope if and when she does yoga again, it will be mindfulness of body and breath, and not about trying to be “young” again.
My message today is please take care of your bodies, right now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not after Thanksgiving. Right now.
Start right now. Exercise regularly. If you haven’t exercised yet today, I challenged you to 10 burpees, followed by 30 lunges each leg and 30 sit-ups. Do anything, just move. And do it with mindfulness, not just rushing through them. Make healthy food choices and save only special occasions for cheats.
It will only get more difficult with time. Listen to your body, build up that strength and only get stronger from there.
If that still doesn’t make you move, maybe this will.