Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's Not The Tailor

A few years ago I had a pair of dress pants shortened. To my dismay, the tailor had made one side longer than the other and I didn't know if I should go back and complain or what. I had already worn them out a few times and didn't notice the difference in legs until I was standing in a full length mirror months after the job was done.

Awareness was something often brought up during my yoga teacher training. It's funny how often conversations with friends lead to the topic of awareness. Most people are not emotionally intelligent or aware of themselves at all. I might as well say that none of us are really. And it's funny that we don't notice things or bother with self observance unless something is pointed out, and then we deny it anyway. Is it really anyone's job to point things out in the first place?

In yoga training we spent every afternoon discussing anatomy. Unfortunately much of the discussion went completely over my head. It felt like we were discussing things better suited for chiropractors and physical therapists. I looked forward to learning about anatomy, but this was really hard and I didn't know how to apply it. I get that we want to be aware of people's injuries and give alternate poses for those in pain, but the specifics of an injury and how to tell if someone has it seemed strange to me.

Each day we did a posture lab in class where the instructor picked out a few students and everyone watched them do a pose. We offered suggestions to make it better then watch the transformation, often times resulting in oooohs and aaahhhhs from the class. A pose I was called up for was Utkatasana, or commonly referred to as chair pose. The problem was that I was going into it with a deep sway in my low back since I thought we were supposed to sort of reach for the sky as we take a deep hamstring stretch. Nope. The torso has to move in one piece and stay in line with the hips. Ah ha. I didn't mind that everyone made a circle around me and commented on what my body was doing, until one comment.

A guy in class said that he could see I was twisted and one arm reached out longer than the other. I had no idea what he was talking about. He asked if he could move my arms while I was in the pose, and I could not believe how much he moved me so that I was "straight," or "aligned," as we like to say. The instructor said that I am a person with a curvature in the spine and that everyone should come look. They all stood behind me and commented on things I couldn't see. I didn't get angry but it was weird. I couldn't get how a bunch of yoga practitioners were determining what was wrong with my body.

Luckily the instructor said that for someone with a curvature like this, it isn't helpful to give them that kind of adjustment. If my arms are being pulled away from where they naturally go, then I automatically move my pelvis creating yet another unhealthy curve. She also had all of us stand in a circle and look at each other's shoulders reminding us that we are all a bit skewed and it's not a big deal.

A few days later we were deep into anatomy and again I had no idea what the hell people were talking about. I was completely lost and zoning out, when a thought occurred to me. If we know all the ins and outs of carpal tunnel, are we supposed to tell someone that they probably should get checked for it? All the manuals say that we are never to diagnose or give advice, but here we are learning all the things that are wrong with people, and learning how to delicately say something. I raised my hand and asked why it would be appropriate for a yoga instructor to point out something about the student's anatomy. I am not comfortable with this. My point was that just coming to yoga itself is an act of wanting to learn about your own body and if injuries or strange occurrences come up, you can then go talk to your doc about it.

The classmate who pointed out my crookedness immediately wanted to know if I was upset by his comments and suggestions. I said that I wasn't but I honestly didn't see how it was useful. So I'm crooked, so what? I told the class that I had a yoga instructor that told me she could see one side of my body was higher than the other in my down dog, and I thought so what? I mean you can see something that someone else doesn't, but what am I supposed to do with that information? Run out and get an MRI? Chiropractor? Freak out?

The discussion then turned from what I was trying to point out to people's emotional health and how we have to be careful of what we say so they don't get angry or hurt. I couldn't believe it. I wasn't trying to attack anyone, I just don't know how helpful it is for someone who isn't a doctor to tell a student: hey you have this going on, did you know? I tried to reiterate but there seemed to be a consensus that yes, it was our job to make people more aware. A yoga teacher has the ability to help people gain awareness of their body and connect the mind to the body, and that it is a cornerstone of this practice.

Well, I'm not telling anyone that they might want to get anything checked out, that is up to them. I feel that the awareness teachers are hoping their students gain will happen by default. The more you challenge your body the more you find out what your limitations are. My motto in teaching yoga is going to be that I won't tell anyone how to live their life.

The weirdest thing in all of this is that I guess I forgot about the spinal curvature. I'm sure my parents have funded a couple years of golf club memberships for my chiropractors and physical therapists. In high school I suffered with extreme back pain, but with a few lifestyle changes I can walk and dance and do yoga and I'm fine. A long time ago, I figured that this was going to be as good as it gets. I don't know what else I'm supposed to do about it now if I don't feel bad.

But don't I feel bad? Sitting in an office all day gives me sharp low back and leg cramps. This doesn't happen on a regular basis to most people I know. I always thought that I just hated sitting all day, but there is an actual physical response. My body is rejecting the position due to the spine's movement. What a lightbulb. I never noticed this before but I lean heavily to my left, and am probably never sitting with both shoulders aligned. Since figuring this out I mindfully push over to my right more so there is less pressure.

Would I have realized this if not for the discussion in yoga? Chances are that I would have over time, but it's good to know. Lately I've been a little upset and paranoid about it, but we are all walking around with things wrong with us. When I have more money I could try rolfing or something to straighten out more. Getting upset about one boob being lower than the other or how I will look as an old lady isn't worth it. I'll just have to take calcium and embrace crookedness. From now on, both pant legs have to be measured instead of using the guide from one. It's not the tailor, it's me.

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