do it your way

by michelle on December 14, 2012

Every time a yoga teacher (myself included) says, “Do it your own way,” it makes me chuckle.

While I’m inwardly smiling, many students—newer students in particular—are donning one of two expressions: terror or total confusion.

Of course, what we teachers mean is, if something about this isn’t working for you, feel free to adjust your body in the pose so it does work; if something else would feel better, then do that; and for goodness sake, if something hurts, don’t do it!

But when we give the step-by-step (often interpreted as the “right” way to do the pose) and then the instruction is “If this isn’t working for you, just do it your own way,” students can feel conflicted:

I don’t have a way.
I don’t want to do it differently than everyone else.
There are too many options for what I could do and now I feel overwhelmed.

And forced creativity is never fun, especially for a room full of people who, for just one hour, don’t want to have to make any decisions.

You have to play for a long time to be able to play like yourself.
~Miles Davis

It takes so much practice to find our way.

For people newer to their bodies, it takes a lot of attention to get to know their own sensations, instincts and urges. And paying attention—what, in yoga, we might call awareness, mindfulness, or presence—takes practice.

The body, since it can’t be anywhere other than Now, is a fast track, direct route back into the moment, into the feeling of source and connection. On or off that mat, what are the sensations and feelings, where do I feel pulled, how do I want to move? And although some of the urges may be old habits or born of fear, it’s a step through the doorway, the first sentence in an ongoing conversation.

In my own teaching I’ve been encouraging students to think of the pose as a sketch. To find the general shape, then tune into very basic sensations. What’s tight, what feels good, what feels bittersweet? And then approach the possibility of moving not from the mind but from the desires and curiosity of the body… like the almost irrepressible stretch that goes along with a yawn.

Then be open to what happens. Let yourself be changed. And the conversation continues…

What about you? What are you practicing? Are there moments when you know what “your way” is? Where do you turn when you don’t?


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth December 17, 2012 at 8:58 pm

I suspect I would have one of those expressions of terror. Hehe. An expression that says, “No! Just tell me what to do!”

I don’t know if I have moments when I don’t know my way anymore. Instead, I have moments when I doubt my way, which I somehow like even less. Yes. The not knowing was easier; in the moment, it felt more hopeful, like I would eventually find my way and then all would be well. When I remember that it’s not necessarily true, which is not instantaneous, I turn inward, and the doubt eventually fades.


Rebekah December 18, 2012 at 8:57 am

It so depends on the day! Sometimes I know just what “my way” entails and I feel really confident about it, but usually I’m wayyy less sure of myself. I do find that when I’m in class, it’s harder to know what “my way” entails with my eyes open…. when I look around and see what other people are doing, it’s hard not to get caught up in thinking that another person’s way looks “better”…… In those moments, I try to make myself close my eyes and turn inward to figure out what MY body really needs in that moment. And it does seem like the more I practice turning inward and listening, the louder my inner voice becomes!


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