I was at the tender age of four, when a new doctor thought he’d tell my mother that her sweet, happy little girl had a congenital defect. The way I rotated both my feet inward was not ‘normal’, but, it was treatable.
My mother had shuddered at the costly cure: years of night braces and shoes with heavy orthotics to help reposition the bones to what was considered a proper alignment. She’d looked down at her own feet. They weren’t perfectly straight either and she was healthy, active and had never had any pain.
Surely this could not be that serious! She’d barraged the doctor with questions and in the end, my feet were left alone and no one ever mentioned them again. My legs were part of what made me who I was: a ‘normal’ girl who loved to dance and was part of a team that trained and performed in rhythmic gymnastics while growing up.
About a year ago I injured my right leg and hip doing something I shouldn’t have been doing. Isn’t that how things like this usually happen? Now I faced a long rehabilitation process and I took up yoga. I fell in love with it instantly.
Philosophically, however, I questioned the underlying belief in mainstream yoga that if we keep practicing long enough, we’ll be able to perform the poses to the same extent as shown on the internet photos or demonstrated by the instructors.
My question was: who decides what yoga poses are ‘supposed’ to look like? We are not all built alike! Yet here was my instructor telling me that through diligent practice I would straighten my congenitally pronated legs to a ‘normal’ alignment.
My last public yoga class ended when the instructor corrected my Warrior II stance, after which my leg was in so much pain, I had to stop. My recovery had taken a step backward from which I had to work myself up again.
I have continued my yoga practice with a certified yoga therapist and instructor named Jo. She believes that part of yoga is learning to be aware of our bodies and working with them as they are.
Our muscles naturally tense when we enter a pose and kick up a fuss because of it. If during the stance we focus and relax the protesting muscles, we often feel the muscles give and we naturally extend our movement deeper into the pose. However, we have natural limits when bone contacts bone. For example, the gap between Jo’s hip bone and lower rib is shorter than mine so my side bend will easily become deeper than hers will ever be.
There will be natural end points to anyone’s range of motion based on the construction of their bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Our back arches will be limited based on the ligament that runs down the side of the spine, our disks and the boney protrusions of the vertebra.
Striving to go deeper in a pose because of a fixed idea of what it’s meant to look like puts us at risk of serious injury. Performing yoga within our limitations won’t make the practice any less meaningful.
Now I’m being true to my body when I take my Warrior II stance. And that is all that matters.