I Love My Curves
by Jennifer Meehan
I feel as though my years of yoga training, practice and teaching were all leading up to this past weekend. For me personally, it was the culmination of what I’ve been working towards since I first came to the yoga mat, and that is, how to best work with my scoliosis. I’ve read many articles by Elise Browning Miller and I’ve incorporated many of her suggested poses into my practice, and as a result, I feel like my spine is stronger, straighter, super-spine. This weekend I attended Elise’s Yoga for Scoliosis workshop, and the experience was transformative. Elise is a lovely instructor, deeply sensitive to her students’ needs and physical challenges. She imbues a sense of empowerment and positive energy. Her infectious, mega-watt smile lit up the entire studio at Karuna. She described yoga as a journey of exploration and awareness, guiding us to listen to what resonates within our own bodies.
There were times during my teacher training that I beat myself down physically and emotionally, blaming my weakened spine and advancing years (ahem) for why I was unable to kick up effortlessly into handstand or lift my navel heavenwards into a perfect urdhva danurasana. Elise’s training helped me to feel empowered because she emphasized time and time again how yoga gives us the tools to heal our minds and our bodies. It’s given me a renewed outlook on the practice of basic standing poses due to the focus on the lengthening of the spine and the strengthening of the arms and legs to create more freedom in the spine.
Elise referred to her scoliosis as a blessing, and even as I was writing the words into my notes, their meaning was starting to affect me. I could feel my relationship to my body starting to shift. A blessing? Yes, despite the chronic pain, frustration and feelings of inadequacy. It is because of my scoliosis that I view my yoga practice as a scientific experiment on my own body. My teacher will suggest an action in class such as deepening the thoracic spine towards the front body that perhaps takes on a deeper, more personal meaning to me than to the other students in class. Lately I’ve been working with this action, taking it from pose to pose, and experimenting on ways to work this action into sequences for my intro-level students.
I’m learning to accept that the physical challenge of scoliosis is, for me, a blessing. No longer is it something I have to struggle against, it’s not a war I’m waging with my own body. But rather, it is a gift for me, as a student first, and then as a teacher, to understand how I can work with various poses and adapt them to the unique demands of my spine. By working towards a deeper understanding of how the most minor of adjustments can make a world of difference to the pose as a whole, I feel like I’m gathering data on my own body to pass along to my students.
BKS Iyengar writes in Tree of Yoga “Teach only what you know. Be a guinea pig on your own self before you play with others. You can only give what you yourself have experienced. Do not imagine that you already understand and impose your imperfect understanding on those who come to you for help. Remember that experience and the knowledge born of experience are a million times superior to accumulated and acquired knowledge. Experience knowledge is subjective and it is factual, whereas acquired knowledge, being objective, may leave the stain of doubts. So learn, do, re-learn, experience, and you will be able to teach with confidence, courage and clarity.”