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February 7, 2015 by Natalie Edwards
Before I decided to embark upon a teacher training, I had never even explored the idea that I might be able to take such a physical and intensive challenge on. I remember when I told my Mum I was going to train as a yoga teacher and she said “But you can’t be a yoga teacher, you’re too tall, and you have scoliosis”. Diagnosed with scoliosis at a young age, it had always been something that I had viewed as a negative in my life and something that I needed to be ‘careful’ of. For years I made assumptions that I should do less than the average person for fear of hurting my back. I stopped dancing, partly because of the pain and partly because I no longer felt good enough to be a dancer after my diagnosis, and I was also ironically told to avoid yoga by osteopaths. Sure, there are some poses I find harder to do than other people, and there are some poses my body definitely cannot do, but yoga has taught me that my condition is actually a gift and has shown me the importance of movement and staying connected to the body no matter what’s going on inside. Each and every one of us can develop a sense of worthiness, strength and resilience no matter what injuries we are working with. When we are in pain, or if we have experienced a lot of pain in our lives, we can immediately empathise with and relate to others who are in pain. I would sometimes be heading off to teach on a pain day thinking ‘how can I give myself fully to this student with this pain in my body’, but actually the pain was there as a little lesson whilst I was teaching. It made me much more acutely aware of how I was holding my body during adjustments. I was protecting myself and my body and therefore helping the student into the most comfortable assist I could give them. It also helped me tune more into that person’s body and their pain level. I have learnt so much about how to adjust for my body through my pain and have accepted that my body is different, so in turn I am able to help my students know that it is ok to do the same. As I’ve deepened my relationship with my spine and myself and begun to show myself more loving kindness than I used to, I am much less fearful of a student who comes to me with an injury I perhaps don’t know a lot about, because working with an injury, as well as our technical knowledge of course, is really just about guiding that student into their body and removing their fear, so they can learn to know what feels good and what doesn’t. I have sat down on my mat many mornings, during the training and in my own practice, and felt less than able-bodied and sometimes frustrated. I remember feeling stiff,sore and hugely out of my depth during our morning intensives with Ana Forrest. All those super-flexible bodies and teachers who had been practicing for years! How was I ever going to be a good teacher if I could barely get into a forward fold some mornings? But what was really going on here was much deeper than the poses. During the training, I was massively out of my body. I didn’t love myself at all and felt this continuous overflow of anger towards my spine and my neck. I hated the way I felt when I did certain poses and I could feel how misaligned my neck and spine were. Slowly but surely though, returning to my mat has helped me develop the self-love I needed to be the teacher, and student, that I know I can be. It’s still a work in progress as every day I have to mentally tell myself I love those parts of my body with which I can often feel are not as strong as others, but the more I do this, the more they love me back, the more they are willing to work with me to open up, and the more I can find a sense of balance and centre in my body, even when I know I will never be completely ‘straight’. So if you are thinking of becoming a teacher but are worried an old injury is going to hinder you, or are perhaps worried a condition you have will mean you’re less able than others, I invite you to reframe that idea. Because actually, by learning to teach and practice in a way that feels good in your body and using that limitation as a friend instead of an enemy, you’ll be able to help other people with the same condition as you do the same. And you may just inspire people along the way too! So become curious about your body and it’s ‘differences’. Ask it what it wants to teach you. And start practicing self-love on and off the mat. Because in developing self-compassion, we are much better placed to be compassionate to our students, and through developing our awareness and gratitude towards our limitations or injuries, we are much better equipped to help those who are struggling with pain.