Lessons in a Bad Yoga Class
The other day, I took a bad yoga class. I went to see one of my favorite teachers, and as usual, her class was intelligent, well-paced, and well-focused. But as I moved through the sequence, I found that my shoulder was pinching and I felt twinges in my back. Downward Dog hurt. I had to stop and lie down.
In this class, I couldn’t access the things I usually love about yoga—connecting with the flow of my breath, releasing the aches and the pains of the day, and seeing myself as a strong and powerful woman. The truth about the yoga practice, unfortunately, is that lots of days are nothing like that. Lots of days are like this one—uncomfortable, unpredictable, and frustrating.
It wasn’t the teacher’s fault. To be fair, the class itself wasn’t actually bad. Even the fact that I felt bad in it wasn’t so bad. The yoga practice, while it might look like it’s about the poses, is actually about using the poses to discover something about yourself. Some days that discovery is beautiful and powerful and delightful. Some days the discovery is that your shoulder hurts.
When your true love comes home at the end of the day, and tells you that they had a bad day, do you immediately berate them for bringing you down? Would you insist they have better days more often to make your life easier? Hopefully you wouldn’t. And yet this is often how we talk to our bodies: we listen to them in yoga or meditation, and when they tell us they feel bad, we yell at them, we try to change their minds, to force them to feel good again.
A more loving response, to either lover or body, might be, “Thank you for telling me how you feel. What can I do to help?”
This is how I am learning to be with my body. To come to yoga not for the Downward Dogs, but to ask, “how was your day?” Sometimes the answer is positive, and sometimes it’s negative. When my body is having a bad day, I can feel around for what’s going on and what I might need to feel better. Do I need movement or do I need rest? Do I need to simply be still for a while and listen to what hurts?
Love doesn’t only show up for the good days. It shows up for the bad days too. In this sense, yoga, or whatever your practice is with your mind and body, is about learning to love yourself no matter how you happen to feel that day.
My meditation teacher was once asked how to deal with the difficulty of showing up to a daily meditation practice. She said, “You only get 20 minutes a day to spend time with your one true love. Are you really going to miss that appointment?”
Learning to see yourself as your one true love is a practice. You don’t fall in love with someone and then, having achieved perfection, never see them again. You keep showing up to the relationship as long as you can. Self love isn’t necessarily innate—most of us need to learn it. It’s not a sudden magical realization; it takes work and practice like anything else. There’s no goal to meet, it’s just about showing up for the rest of your life. As the practice gets deeper, it also gets easier, more comfortable, and more delightful—even on the bad days.