Body, Mind, Spirit Magazine

Guest Post: On Being Kind to Yourself

By Anytimeyoga @anytimeyoga

By Nessie Monster

Nessie was inspired to start her own blog, A Hat Full of Ness, through reading the works of many other intelligent, honest women talking about science, feminism, sexuality and mental health. After numerous long comment conversations, she figured she had enough words of her own to make it worth while. In her off-line life she is in the final year of a PhD in cell biology in Manchester, England, and keeps herself busy with jiu jitsu and yoga, amongst other things.

I originally took up yoga because I couldn’t reach my toes any more. My friend recommended an Ashtanga class which I enjoyed and stuck with for several months. Not only did it make a physical difference (I could reach the floor!), it provided a good, quiet, focused space when everything else in my life was falling apart. I wound up moving cities, and took up a much more vigorous sport in the hopes of gaining a social life but after a about a year, I found myself missing yoga. My university offered drop-in sports classes with a beginners’ hatha yoga class, so I went to see what the teacher was like.

Karon turned out be absolutely lovely. She brought a bit of fun to the class and supplied multiple levels of difficulty for various poses with constant reference to ‘what works for you’ and ‘where your body is at today’. There were blocks, cushions and blankets galore and she even supplied handouts so you could continue at home. From the very beginning she said that even if all you had is five minutes for savasana, that still counts.

Woman lying in savasana.

“Mmm, savasana.”
By Robert Bejil, under a CC licence.

I signed up for her 8 week block of classes in the spring semester. My flexibility continued to improve and I was learning to pay attention to my body throughout the day. The best bit about her class, however, was how emotionally safe I felt. I could go in after a rubbish day at uni when none of my experiments had worked, or when life in general was getting to me, and find space to breathe. I learned to notice when I was tense and where I was holding it, and whether I was sad or angry or whatever. Focusing on my breathing and my movements and getting the two together grounded me (yoga speak for being really present in both your body and the moment) and helped me to relax. My mind spent less time worrying and more time paying attention. Turns out ‘being grounded’ isn’t the hippyish nonsense I thought it was.

I continued with Karon’s classes in the summer semester but eventually the summer “holidays” (what holidays?!!) rolled round and she wasn’t running anything over July and August. I wanted to keep up the yoga over summer but I am TERRIBLE at doing stuff at home, so I found another course, Ashtanga this time. With a different instructor.
Ugh, it was horrible. This class was an hour and a half, covering pretty much the full Ashtanga sequence. Not only was it hard work doing that many vinyasas, there was no flexibility in moving through the difficulty options. I can barely do the standing tree pose with my foot on my shin – no way was I getting my foot up to my hip then wrapping my arms round the back, grabbing my big toe then bending forwards!

Woman in astavakrasana, a bound hand balancing pose.

“Nope, this isn’t going to happen either.”
By Jemasty (Own work), CC licence

The class was supposedly aimed at beginners but that was clearly a lie. There were people in there with levels of flexibility I can only dream of, doing the most complex arm balances I have ever seen, when I can’t even do Scale pose, and that was a recipe for insecurity. I’d not felt that in Karon’s class because she was so careful to make sure that you moved at your own pace, that feeling it being triggered in this class was doubly unpleasant.

The instructor would come round and make adjustments too, not always asking first. My seated forward bend, for example, is rubbish because everything down the backs of my legs is incredibly tight but he came round and leant on my back to push me further forwards regardless. That doesn’t stretch my hamstrings, instead it crushes my vertebrae! There also wasn’t the time in the Sun Salutations to take make sure I wasn’t crunching my lower spine in Upward Dog, or to make sure my pelvis was level and correctly angled in the standing Warrior poses. I’ve had sacro-illiac problems in the recent past and through plenty of reading and asking of questions, I’d learned ways to adjust various poses to take care of myself, acting only within my physical limits. That went out of the window in his class. Even when I protested I couldn’t do certain things, he wanted to know why not, and wouldn’t really take no for an answer. Do I even need to say why that behaviour is neither good nor helpful?

Needlesss to say, I didn’t last long.

The first class was challenging and fun, but it had been a good day and I was feeling optimistic. The second class, with the unwelcome adjustments, left me feeling pretty low and my spine feeling not quite right. By halfway through the third class, I’d had enough. I wanted to go home. I did not want to do another flipping vinyasa, thank you very much!

I realised I was becoming stressed, panicky and increasingly obstinate. I made it to the end of the class and went home in a bad mood, with a problem.

See, I’d spent over £40 on the block of classes. Not a huge loss but not a small one either. If it’d had been a pay as you go class, it wouldn’t have mattered. Still, remember what I said about Karon’s class, and paying attention to how I’m feeling? I decided to apply it properly for once. Three classes was enough to know it wasn’t going to do myself any favours by continuing. The feelings of ‘Do. Not. Want’ were so obvious, how could I do anything else? I missed the gentler class, where I could prop to my heart’s content and take my own sweet time counting my breath. I missed the quiet savasana at the beginning and end of every session, and her direction to dedicate the class to yourself or something bigger. I missed the space she provided to care for myself.

So I decided to be kind to myself and decided not to go again. It’s been great, and now I’m looking forward to September.

If you’re interested in guest posting at Anytime Yoga, please feel free to email Tori at [email protected]

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