12 Sep 2013
THE BEAUTY OF CORRECTION
The first time I was adjusted in a yoga class was weird and exhilarating and awesome. It was exactly what I had expected from the yoga classes I had seen in the early 2000’s romantic comedies that had informed my world view of a whole bunch of things, yoga classes included. My first few classes had busted the illusion that I would morph into a graceful swan, pushing myself through sweatless and effortless down dogs immediately. But when the teacher went through the class and would pull our hips back or reposition our reaching arms in a warrior or triangle pose, it felt like a right of passage. I’ve been practicing yoga for a few years now at a variety of studios wherever my wandering and travels have taken me and have finally settled into a studio that feels like home. Every studio and every teacher seems to handle adjustments differently: some are liberal with their corrective touch, some verbally coach and give cues, and there are entire classes I have gone without hearing one student receive personal attention.
As a beginner, the attention and adjustments were welcome and helped to orientate me to poses that intimidated me and made me feel more secure. As my practice advanced, though, I got a major case of ego and started to despise that inevitable moment when my teacher’s voice would be getting closer over my shoulder and I could tell they were examining my pose to prepare to shift my body into a more ideal version. I felt like I definitely knew what I was doing, I was straining to go as far as I could, I was trying! Couldn’t they see that? I’d been utilizing my unlimited class passes and had felt like I was making progress in my practice. Surely I wasn’t deserving of all these adjustments, surely there were beginners who could use the attention more than I could. I began to feel smug when the instructor would pass me by and instead correct my neighbor. When they would stand and vocally coach me on the way I was in a pose, I would burn red with embarrassment and anxiety that everyone was looking at me and seeing how terrible I was at yoga.
When we love things, we want to be good at them. When we’re pouring time into something, we want to know that it’s worth it and that we’re making some kind of progress. Society hammers the importance of using our time wisely and the narrative of constantly and visibly improving into us constantly. We learn to crave approval and acceptance and acknowledgement. Our time on the mat should be a counter to this, but sometimes it’s too easy to drag the dominant narratives we hear all day onto the mat with us. I found my aversion to correction was then sneaking its way off of the mat with me. I got defensive about feedback at work, put up walls when friends had said something I did was insensitive or when my partner suggested that I do something differently.
So now I am measuring my success in a yoga class by how little I let my ego interfere with the way I experience the practice. I have learned that being corrected, both on and off the mat is a gift.
When you’re all inverted in downward dog and looking at your bellybutton a teacher can offer you a different perspective. When you practice in a studio with no mirrors, it’s essential. They have spent hundreds of hours learning about our bodies – the muscles, tendons, circulation, fascia and other things many of us are not well-versed in. We need their expertise and they are willing to share it with us. When we get corrected or adjusted, it’s because the teacher knows something we don’t and they are sharing this with us. They do it because they want us to feel better in our bodies and prevent us from injury, because they want us to get as much out of our practice as we can and not to embarrass us.
The same is true in the practice of our lives; people offer us genuine correction or adjustments to our perspectives, attitudes, and ideas because they care about us and the outcomes of our efforts. They want us to succeed and prevent us from experiencing a different kind of injury. Just like it can be hard to hear we haven’t nailed pigeon pose like we thought we had, it can be difficult to hear that something that we said was racist or sexist or otherwise offensive. It can be hard to hear that a project we’ve been working on still needs some polishing or needs to be started over. But these things really are in our best interest and being able to accept corrections gracefully is a sign of a checked ego. A wise woman mentor I am lucky to have once told me that when people offer us correction, it’s a sign we’re on the right path more than anything else, it’s a vote of confidence that your voice and presence is valued and important: “People are busy and someone wouldn’t waste their breath on you if they didn’t feel like you could change.”
So now when I feel the teacher’s hands on my shoulders or hips, twisting or lifting, I breathe into the new space it creates and try to bring that sense of peace and openness and active receptiveness into being corrected when I step out of the studio.
Jodie lives in and loves Winnipeg, Manitoba with her partner Jamil and dog Jackson. By day, she coordinates a youth program at a neighbourhood centre and by night she is a sex columnist, anti-street harassment crusader, freelance writer, and a vegan food lover.