For the most part, my yoga practice began at home, in my lounge – (with the help of instagram). I practiced at home until I found stability in poses like wheel pose (urdhva dhanurasana) and headstand (viva practicing against the couch!). Once I had ‘practiced enough’ I made my first very brave steps into an actual yoga studio (which was oddly terrifying and not at all calming like I had expected! lol.)
On one of my first ever yoga-teacher led classes I heard the yoga teacher say, “If you practice wheel pose, feel free to come into wheel now. If you don’t practice wheel, then feel free to come into a bridge pose.”
I looked around at everyone and silently thought to myself, “well this yoga teacher is a bit unfair – it feels like an either/or situation. Either you practice wheel. Or you don’t. What about all those people in this room who WANT to practice wheel but just don’t know how to get into it?” Surely if you’re one of those people you would be thinking, “How do I do wheel pose?”
I knew pretty early on that I wanted to one day teach yoga and in that moment, I made a little note to myself that if I was ever a yoga teacher that I would never use the phrase, “if you practice wheel pose” or “if headstand is in your practice” or “if you have crow pose”. Because it completely cuts out the people who “don’t have it in their practice” but would really like it in their practice.
Fast forward a few years.
A little while ago, I was covering a class in a yoga studio – it was to a group of yogis I had never taught before and a collection of bodies I do not know. I had no idea where exactly each of these individuals are in their yoga practice, what they have learnt up to now and what they feel like practicing in this session. And, I realised, the most obvious (and arguably the most effective) way to offer this option to those people who have a good foundation of those poses already and would like to practice headstand/wheel/crow etc is by saying, “if you practice wheel pose, feel free to come into wheel.” Apologies yoga teachers, I get it now.
Because here is the thing – as a yoga teacher, I believe it’s important to give people the space to explore the postures they feel comfortable to do so. Everybody within the yoga class will be at different stages of their personal practice and by opening with “if X-pose is in your practice” it opens up the space for those people who are comfortable to explore it and signals to those people that they can get on with it, whilst it gives some time to the teacher to help those people who perhaps need a bit more help.
Simultaneously I also believe it is important that the phrase “if X-pose is in your practice…” is followed with “and if you are not practicing X pose today, but would like to at some point – here are several other alternatives W, Y and Z that can help you build strength to get into it one day.”
Another thing that largely frustrated me in my early days of first beginning to practice in yoga studios was the teacher saying, “… find Warrior One” or “we’ll make our way into Trikonasana, triangle pose” – as someone who was completely new to yoga – I had no idea what “warrior one” pose was or “triangle pose” was – and it seemed like everyone else knew what they were doing and where to put their feet, while I was trying to hustle it out. It frustrated me that the teacher just assumed that everyone knew what “warrior one” was. Looking back now – and particularly through the lens of being a yoga teacher – I should’ve realised the cue “find warrior one” – was not the cue that was intended for me – a complete beginner with no idea of the difference between my parsvottanasana and my parsvakonasana.
Even within a complete beginners yoga class, there will be some people in the room who have practiced several times and do know what a triangle pose looks like, whilst others who have practiced for the first time ever and have absolutely no idea what they are aiming for. The cue “come into triangle pose” is not intended for the complete beginner – but it gives a signal to the person who does know what it is – that this is where we are heading. The alignment cues for the complete beginner will usually follow (if the yoga teacher is correctly catering for all) with something like – “Come into triangle pose. Step the right foot out perpendicular to the top of the mat, left foot parallel to the short side of the mat…”
It is only in actually teaching yoga classes that I can fully understand and appreciate the complexity of managing a yoga class, the multitude of levels and body types present in every class and the need to keep the class flowing whilst still providing ample instruction for those who need it, whilst simultaneously creating space for those who need less instruction. To those yoga teachers who I judged in my early days of venturing to yoga studios – I’m sorry.
So the question is “if wheel pose is not in your practice” and you don’t feel you have enough time within the class or enough alignment cues to help you figure it out – then how DO you ever ‘get that pose in your practice’? How do you practice wheel pose? How do you do headstand? How do you learn how to arm balance?
The first answer is to book a private yoga session with a yoga teacher you know/trust/like. They will very quickly be able to tell you any hindering factors that are slowing your progress and be able to give you specialised poses to assist you in your yoga journey based on your own needs.
The second answer is to book into a workshop. Yoga workshops are specialised days where teachers are able to “stop the flow” of a regular vinyasa class and fully break down specific poses through technical alignment, muscle group activation and provide more drill based exercises to assist in creating that space for growth targeted in a specific area.
But possibly, if I’m honest, the simplest answer is: practice. Keep returning to your yoga classes and see if you can tune into a second layer of instruction. Keep practicing. And then keep practicing some more.
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For those who would like to join me from 15h00 – 17h00 at an arm balancing workshop Saturday June 18th at Jiva in Wimbledon –
booking is now available via this website.
I’d love to practice with you!