I am not broken

Post by Kat Selvocki for the Kind Kindred series.

I am not broken

“Find a comfortable seat,” the teacher says. It’s how a great many yoga classes begin, and I’ve certainly given this cue myself more than a few times.

My right sacroiliac joint has been out of whack for a while, and sometimes my left knee, so even with props, sitting cross-legged is neither happy nor easy, as the Sanskrit name of that pose–sukhasana–would suggest. A former athlete with tight hips, I have always found solace in a kneeling seat instead, but even that offers me no relief at this time.

As I struggle to sit still without pain, I hear the echo in my head once again:

I am broken.
I am broken.
I am broken.

It’s all I can do not to start crying.

This isn’t every day, or every class. Some days I feel strong; I’m not haunted by these injuries or others from times past. It comes and goes, though if I’m not cautious, the pain becomes a regular occurrence.

We move on from our “comfortable” seat to other postures, yet the echo remains. I feel it return throughout class, along with the aching at the back of my pelvis. In my early days of practicing yoga, I used to be jealous of the people on the mats around me; they all seemed to be able to form shapes that my inflexible body refused to do. These days, what comes up when I’m on my mat is fear, as I wonder whether I can teach from this place of injury. Will my students listen if I don’t look like the photos they see on Instagram and the covers of yoga magazines? If I can’t maneuver into most of these postures when I’m taking a class, what do I have to offer when I teach one?

* * * * * * * * * *

When I tell people that I teach yoga, the common chorus is “I’m not flexible enough to do that.”

If I’m feeling a little sassy, my response is, “Would you not take a Spanish class because you don’t speak Spanish?” Sometimes, I just smile and nod; other days I’ll note that I came from an athletic background, so I can understand their hesitation.

What I really want to tell them is my story: how I began practicing yoga as an inflexible runner and I distinctly remember the moment when my hamstrings stretched a little more deeply; how roller derby created massive imbalances in my body that I’m still learning to work with; how I handle past and current injuries, and struggle with my ego more times than not when I step on the mat.

I don’t say those things, because most of the time, the person with whom I’m speaking isn’t really looking to be sold on yoga–and that’s okay.

But sometimes I wonder whether I should engage with them more, and offer them advice from a yoga teacher’s perspective. I can’t speak for all teachers–everyone’s style and focus is different–but after years of working through feeling broken and afraid on my mat, I have found what I can offer my students: a space to be themselves, and to safely explore.

These are some of the ways I have learned to be kind to myself when I am feeling broken, and one piece of how I encourage my students to discover their bodies and their individual practices.

Cues don’t need to be interpreted so literally.
As a very simple example, “fingertips to the floor” can become “bend your knees so your fingertips touch the floor,” “rest your fingertips on a block,” or “reach your fingertips in the direction of the floor.” In other words, if you hear a teacher give an instruction that seems unattainable for your body in that moment, think about ways that would feel accessible–or if you feel comfortable doing so, ask your teacher for a way to adjust the pose for your body.

Keep the focus on your mat.
It’s okay to glance over for a minute to appreciate the person next to you who’s taking the most intense variations of every posture, or to admire Instagram yogalebrities backbending and inverting, as long as you know that you don’t need to do the same. The more you are able to focus on what’s happening in your body and mind as you practice, the less likely you will be to push too far and injure yourself.

Be flexible in how you view your practice.
Flexibility isn’t just a physical thing. Acknowledge how your practice might change from day to day, or morning to night. Don’t be afraid sit down or take child’s pose if something doesn’t feel right. Know that poses that were attainable a week ago might not be today, and you don’t need to force them to happen right now.

Find a comfortable seat can mean lying down, or sitting with the support of a wall or chair.
If sitting cross-legged or kneeling doesn’t work for you for any reason, explore some other options that will allow you to feel a neutral spinal position, whether that’s sitting with a wall behind you, sitting in a chair, lying down, or standing. Your practice is yours, and you don’t need to sit in pain.

I am not broken, and neither are you.

Kat Selvocki teaches adventurous, mindful, and unpretentious yoga in Seattle and around the globe. When she’s not on her mat, you’ll find her exploring with her camera, making jam and pie, or re-watching Twin Peaks. Follow her adventures on Instagram and twitter, and learn more about her yoga instruction at KatSelvocki.com.

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