Support for the Teetering (& Possibly Tipsy)
During the first year of my yoga teaching career a fun-loving, high heeled 80-year-old (who I’ll call Sheila) cheerfully, religiously, and unsteadily, teetered into my Monday evening class (occasionally smelling like cocktail hour). I loved her free-wheeling personality, but she also made me a little anxious – what if she falls and breaks something?
When I’d asked her to use the wall or the back of a chair for tree pose, she’d roll her eyes and crack, “That’s for old people!”
So, I started leaving balance poses out of that class. But she teetered in her warriors and triangles too, sometimes reaching out to for support to the person next to her with a laugh or a whoop.
While we were all inspired and blessed by Sheila’s indomitable spirit – I was also concerned about what the heck I could teach that would be safe for her and keep the rest of the class happy and interested.
Eventually, I tried a different strategy.
When it was time for something that required a little balance – everyone goes to the wall. Standing forward bends or lunges? Everyone uses blocks. Tree pose? Everyone either goes to the wall or stands back to back with a partner for a little extra support.
Sheila sighed and huffed when I announced a prop pose but she never fell in my class – and I stopped dreading Monday nights.
That was almost 25 years ago, and I’ve kept the same strategy over the years – everyone gets props at the beginning of class (as for people showing up inebriated, I have learned to address that immediately and directly, but I’ll leave that for another blog)
Another thing I realized back then is that when I’m teaching, if I use a prop, others will feel more comfortable using them. If I ask everyone to get a block but don’t use it myself when I demonstrate, then folks feel like the “real” way to do the pose is the way I’ve shown it and want to emulate me.
But that’s not fair.
I’m not teaching yoga to show off my asana chops, I’m teaching yoga to help people develop theirs. Using props myself conveys the idea that you can kindly and compassionately support yourself and, of course, minimize the risk of strain or injury. But the ubiquitous advice that you should “use a prop if you need one” is dismissive at best.
In recent years another participant I’ll call Tom has poo-pooed my prop requests. He likes to say, “Props are for Wimps!” with a big grin.
It’s frustrating, but I have to remember that many people in the western world have been acculturated to think that dominating and subduing their body is somehow good for them. That the harder they work, the more they will benefit. That the Nike God has rendered some enduring, eternal truth, and etched it into stone (and Lycra).
When you work to help folks overcome the idea that using props means you’re a wimp or you just suck at yoga, then you are doing a great service.
Please check out my free class and accompanying stick figure chest sheet, Subtle Yoga for Greater Nervous System Resilience and Brain Function.