Feedback after a class is so important, both to me and to my students. I normally ask for divine guidance to be able to deliver the practice my students need on a particular day, and the needs always vary. Sometimes more spiritual, sometimes more physical.
A student came to speak to me after class to express some concerns. He said he had injured his shoulder slightly and felt that the class had been a little unstructured and we were holding poses for too long. He also said he had been practicing for quite a while and that from their experience, the teacher spent more time on the mat while the students mimicked the postures. I thanked him for his feedback, but I felt there were a few nuggets to process and ponder.
Looking back to that particular day, I have a feeling that I was just starting my period, I may not have been feeling 100% but it was too short notice to get cover for the class. Generally, it’s advised that women should avoid strenuous exercise on the first three days of her period. The body needs a surprising amount of energy to cope with the physiological changes that occur during the menstrual cycle. More on this in another post.
I know that many people come to yoga to “switch off,” and part of that may involve them listening to the teacher’s voice talking them through a series of postures, without ever looking up. Others can feel that yoga is their chance to “power through” and that a certain number of poses need to be achieved for them to feel like they have achieved. Do they even have the chance to absorb the practice and the actual complexity of apparently basic postures? Now my version of switching off is a little different to some. For me, it’s about switching off from the external noise and clatter, and switching on to you, to focus on the quiet strength within. This doesn’t necessarily mean switching off to the point of blindly following verbal instruction through a packed series of postures from the teacher. You are taking the time to “switch on” to you, so that means paying attention to your body, breath and thoughts. The benefits of yoga are difficult to isolate to specific parts of the body, although a practice can certainly be catered to physical needs and injuries and for specific needs a smaller or one-to-one class may be better suited to you.
Many women will say that they feel scatterbrained during the premenstrual period and when they’re “on.” Could this have accounted for the apparent relative lack of structure in class that day? Possibly. Did everyone feel this same lack of structure? Maybe, maybe not. Did I cater the class to everyone’s needs that day? I try my best in each class, but everyone’s needs are different.
Switching off from noise and switching on to you means listening to your body, and accepting your limits on any given day. This includes injury and physiological changes. This is why the same postures, or a sequence is never the same on two given days. I ask that you come to my class as you and be patient and compassionate with yourself. I also ask this of myself. This can be frustrating at times. But being slow and patient with yourself you avoid injury. In turn, I had to balance being patient with myself given the time of the month, and responding to the needs of my whole class as best as possible. I also do my best to remind students they are responsible for themselves. Their bodies are not mine, so regardless of what I say if something does not feel right physically then I insist they come out of the posture and follow the steps one by one to go back in. If there is any sharp shooting pain, especially near a joint then you come out of the posture immediately and ask for an alternative. This is why moving slowly is so important.
When I talk through postures and move away from my own mat, it’s with the intention that you are empowered to perform them, even at home, according to your needs. So I pay each student a little visit during their practice and help them make the micro-adjustments they need. But while the other students are “waiting” and holding the pose, they could also hear a verbal instruction that may actually be helpful to them before I even get there! But you don’t have to hold the pose until it becomes uncomfortable. Listen to your body, it’s quite alright to take a break in child’s pose.
Going slow, or taking a pause doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing is happening and that you are not learning, not achieving, not growing. Yoga is not about the quantity of postures, it’s about the quality of the practice as a whole. Quality that improves you on all levels.