Overcoming Personal Limitations in a Yoga Practice

Interestingly, over the last few weeks I have had a few messages which have all asked similar questions about my own personal 'limitations' around my yoga practice and I thought it might be an interesting thing to write about - not only to share with you guys but also as an exercise of self-awareness.

The Physical Body

The first resistance that showed up in my practice was a busy mind, which inhibited my access to nurturing my relationship with and understanding of my physical body in the earlier days of my practice - but I will come to that in a few paragraphs! Very quickly, once I allowed myself enough time on the mat, I realised how my physical body did not lend it self to yoga in the way in which many other peoples seemed to* (*a disclaimer here that this was all in my mind and an external view of the practice where I was comparing myself to what I could see in the bodies around me, not what it felt to be in any of those bodies!).

Here are some facts about my body (I have limited it to a few that are relevant to this!):

  • I have tight hamstrings
  • I have always struggled with my flexibility
  • The range of motion in many of my joints is fairly limited, that's just my skeleton, the shape of my bones, and experience compression in some joints fairly easily
  • I have a proportionally short torso and longer limbs, also my bones

Some of those things I can change, others I probably can't. So the first thing I need to do is know that that is ok. There are things that we can change, or work with, and some that we can't.

It took me about 3 years to be able to touch my toes on a daily basis, as in not just on the good days. And if I had been for a run the day before, I should totally forget about it because my hamstrings, and the rest of my body for that matter, would tighten up and that would be it! No toe touching for me.

Does that make me a good or bad yogi? OF COURSE NOT. It is just the amazing adaption and constant change within our bodies.

When I went on my first yoga teacher training, the day before I started, I posted a picture - see below (I scrolled for a long time to find it again!) - and someone replied making me doubt everything as I embarked on this huge adventure that had taken me so much courage to get to.

It was a judgement on the look of my asana, or in their words, that I hadn't 'perfected' it so I shouldn't be considering teaching if I couldn't do something properly! Wow, it sucked to read that then, and it really really hurt me. It was the exact concern I had, that people wouldn't take me seriously as a teacher because my own practice wasn't strong enough. And that comment, or comments like that (they came again at a later date) only served to further amplify that thought in my own head. But if this is the body I live in, does that mean I wont be able to teach until I can 'master every pose' or, more likely, does that mean I could never teach because I will never be able to 'do' certain things within my yoga practice?

I used to become so frustrated by the fact it took me so much longer than others to see progress in my practice, or that despite my regular practice, after one run my hamstrings has seized back up and my toes were no longer in reach. I don't know whether it was impatience, embarrassment, ego or other but most likely it was a mixture of many different things.

Over time, these limitations within my physical body showed me so much more than what they are on the surface, the visible part of my practice. There has been, and there will continue to be, a continuous lesson in patience and acceptance which I hope, and in fact am beginning to truly believe, has been a real attribute to my teaching, my ability to understand the challenges that others may face in their practice, the fact that there is not one way to flow, or enter a pose, and that ever things feels different for every yogi.

And this is where we start to connect the body and mind in the sense of limitation.

The Emotional Body

One thing that comes up a lot in my practice is fear. Honestly the limitation that that puts on our practice is crazy. You could have the strength to hold a handstand but if the mind says no, there's no way you will get yourself there. It might not be handstands, or getting upside down at all. It could be backbends or anything involving the neck, or something entirely different and unique to you. But fear, I find, is one of the greatest limitations in our practice. That being said, rather than viewing this as limitation or obstruction, perhaps this is in fact what yoga is about - a self-exploration, an opportunity to observe and, over time, work through whatever it is that comes up for us.

The more I practice, and the more I teach, the more I see how our greatest limitation to our practice is in our minds. And that's ok. It is ok to be where we are, working from the place that is true to us at this time. But to be aware of what is our reality, our truth, our experience is what helps us to develop a deeper self-practice.

How these limitations affect me as a student and as a teacher is entirely up to me and demonstrate an ever dynamic and changeable experience that is at the heart of what yoga really is. The lessons that we can learn about ourselves on the mat through our strengths and weaknesses, explorations and limitations, is the yoga in action. And it takes an embodiment of ahimsa, non-violence (one of the yamas in yoga philosophy which will be in a post very soon) to accept that as our experience of the practice.

So while my limitations from the outside may define the appearance of my practice, they do not define me as a student nor a teacher of yoga. They are all lessons which are constantly evolving, teaching me more than anything that comes easily. So perhaps the more we have to work with, the more we learn, and maybe, just maybe, those 'limitations' are a blessing not a curse and that in stead of limitations, we could be viewing them as opportunities to learn. That seems like a much more exciting practice to me.

YogaAnnie Clarke