Q: Does anatomy affect what postures we can do, or does our mastery of postures depend on how frequently we practice?
Definitely anatomy affects what we can do and how we do it. I had a student who had been practicing yoga for fifteen years, and even after all that time, when she did Seated Forward Bend, her back was almost perpendicular to the floor. It might have been something about the depth of her hip socket, or maybe she had shorter hamstrings. Every body is constructed differently. And we each have so-called issues in the tissues—stress and tension that can affect mobility. Trauma, whether physical or emotional, has a lasting effect on the body. Even though your pose may not look like the cover of Yoga Journal, you can experience the essence of the posture. When you find stability, ease, and expansion, that’s your posture.
Q: Can you share one way in which you use yoga tools off the mat?
One of the simplest, most powerful ways to use yoga off the mat is by stopping to connect with the breath when you’re feeling an intense emotion, whether it’s anxiety or anger or even joy. Watch how the breath can reconnect you to your body, just as it does when you’re feeling intense sensations in a yoga posture. When I’m on the mat, I’m watching the conversation that’s happening as my body encounters the experience and my mind reacts. My practice off the mat is to watch those same conversations as I move through everyday life. This gives me huge insight into the flow of my life. It’s a breathing space in which I can pause and be compassionate with myself.
Q: For newer yoga practitioners, what tips do you offer when developing a home practice? Is it harder to develop safe alignment when you’re practicing on your own?
Yes, it’s possible to be misaligned and also to fall into ruts; it’s easier to resist what feels challenging and just do what feels more comfortable, which can cause an imbalance in your practice. It might be helpful to practice in front of a full-length mirror for a few postures. Sometimes, when we’re still developing our proprioception, the sense of the relative positions of the various parts of the body, it’s easier to see misalignments than it is to feel them in the body. But, most important, I encourage my students to empower themselves: do research, search the web, watch DVDs, read yoga books, go to classes, and allow all that to inform your practice.
Michelle Dalbec, E-RYT 500, is a passionate Kripalu Yoga teacher who hosts yoga programs,delivers dynamic and motivational workshops, and directs yoga teacher training. The 500-hour Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training is open to 200-hour-certified students from any tradition.