Why Practicing Yoga is about Vulnerability, not Flexibility

As yoga teachers we’re supposed to be perfect. Have our shit together. Wear pretty yoga clothes, be calm and peaceful and nail the pose, floating up into headstand and levitating there like we’ve transcended the world.

Whatever our body shape or the color of our skin, our sexuality or political leaning, there’s still the expectation that we’ve attained something others have not.

After all, we’re the ones at the front of the room.

For me, that’s the paradox of teaching yoga.

I begin most of my classes with, “Your body is your best teacher. Everything I offer you is an offering, don’t do it if it doesn’t work for you. Do what takes care of you. As long as it’s safe I love it when I see you doing your own thing, that means I can trust you to take care of and listen to your body.”

With all the information and sites out there geared toward taking care of ourselves you’d think we’d be better at it. But the truth is most of us don’t know how to be in or with our bodies. And if you look at most of the sites focused on health the pics that accompany them are primarily of glowing, dewy, beautiful, slim 20s to 30s women. Which doesn’t apply to a whole hell lot of us, and reinforces the idea that that’s what we need to look like not only to be healthy, but also to be attractive, valued, desirable.

This is why I believe so many of my wonderful students struggle with the encouragement to listen to their bodies.

And let’s face it, a lot of yoga teachers struggle with it too.

What if I walked into my yoga classroom wearing jeans, my face tear streaked, sat down on my mat and said,

“Today we’re going to practice feeling vulnerable, we’re going to explore the places inside of us that are wounded, scared, sad, grieving, tender, raw.”

Sounds crazy right? But it’d be a much more real and authentic yoga class then one where we practiced sun salutations and warrior poses and arm balances.

Because it’s not about the pose. It’s about the person.

Which is why I will always say listen to your body.

It’s not about me, it’s about you.

I struggle almost every day with how to teach that essential lesson in an hour long class. How do I counteract all the information out there that says the opposite? That says you need this food or that serum or this probiotic or that paleo diet to be healthy? That you need to look like that glowing, dewy 20s to 30s year old?

Almost all of us suffer from information overload, and with the abundance of resources for health and wellness there’s also a pervasive sense of guilt if we don’t eat the right foods, have glowing skin, or supple, strong bodies. If we’re not serene and peaceful and zen.

And I’m not saying there isn’t value in obtaining the above qualities, but for me our true power comes from our vulnerability, being present and loving with each others’ wounds, being scared, sharing sadness and grief, being tender and raw.

When you have your shit together (or pretend you do, because let’s be honest, how many of us actually have it all figured out?), you’re the serene floating into headstand wearing pretty yoga clothes yoga teacher who doesn’t tell her students to listen to their bodies; she tells them to listen to her.

And the problem is we do. We are. I’m guilty of this too, thinking I should be more flexible, stronger, younger, more zen, in order to be a real yoga teacher or practitioner. I haven’t reached enlightenment yet or mega rock star status with devoted fans traveling half way across the world to practice with me among thousands of other students so that they never really get to practice with me, just with the image of me.

So, obviously there’s something wrong with me, right? Or at the very least, something lacking.

Almost every time I teach a class I feel a little like a fraud because I’m asking students to do these poses when really I should be spending the whole hour asking them what their body needs, what their heart longs for, what their intuition whispers.

I should be there in tears and jeans inviting them to embrace their mess, to be intimate with themselves, to step into rather than try to control or fix their vulnerability, that it’s what makes them who they are.

It’s not about looking at me and trying to be me or do me, or more accurately the image of me I happen to be presenting at that time, or that you’re picking up. (After all, how we see yoga teachers has a lot to do with assumptions we all make about yoga teachers and who they are).

It’s about being you.

Doing you.

Expressing you.

Feeling you.

Living you.

Messy, authentic, vulnerable, beautiful. Just as you are, right here, right now.

That’s the real practice. And it’s more powerful than any headstand or arm balance ever could be. The poses, no matter how perfectly we may perform them, do not make us happy. That’s an inside job.

It always starts with you.

I invite you to put one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart and breathe, feel, be.

This is your practice.

The true teacher is inside of you.