My body doesn’t bend right for yoga

Published on December 16, 2011 by      Print
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By Nadine Fawell

I’ve just got back from leading a yoga retreat in Ubud. On my last day there, I went to a yoga class. Taught by someone else! Yessss! I wasn’t going to have to think. Someone else would tell me what to do. That could only be a good thing, right?

Well. It might have been, if I hadn’t forgotten that I have The Wrong Body for Yoga. My ass is too big; my hips don’t bend like they should. Basically, I am a loser who should just slink away and try aerobics or something. I can’t believe I managed to forget about that, and what’s more, be cheeky enough to become a teacher. But that’s okay: our teacher for the morning, a gumby-like man I’ll call Ananda, set me straight.

It all started with Triangle Pose.

Which I was doing, as is my wont, with my top hip pointing a bit towards the ground. It’s how my pelvis bends. If I try to get both hips facing forwards, like in the pictures of Mr. Iyengar, I pop a sacro-iliac joint.


Ananda told me I was collapsing, and that I needed to get my hips straight. I told him he was fighting bone. I think we might have had a language problem, because he stopped the class, and got me up against a wall to illustrate what needed to be happening in my triangle pose. He wanted my feet, bum and shoulders all to be against the wall.

Great idea, except….

Exhibit A:

My bootylicious ass (and somewhat swayed back). It’s humanly impossible for me to get feet, hips and shoulders against a wall without falling over or doing Banana Back (which I kind of do anyway). I got the giggles, people. Two of my students were also in the class and they were smothering their own uncomfortable laughter: we spend a lot of time in class talking about how every body is different, with different limitations, often using mine as an example. They KNEW it wasn’t going to happen. I just don’t think any of us expected Ananda to expend so much energy trying to fix me.

“You don’t practice enough,” he told me. “You just need to practice more.” Daily is apparently insufficient.

And then we did Triangle on the other side. With the whole class looking at me, since we were now facing my corner. And… I did it wrong.

Exhibit B:

Hips pointing the wrong way. Clearly a collapsed Triangle. Ananda came to fix me. And, funnily enough, my sacro-iliac joint popped. Hello, pain. Haven’t seen you for a while. Can’t say I missed you.

Why, you ask, did I let him do all this? Well, I didn’t want to disrupt the class more than I already had, and I didn’t want to be disrespectful by trying to give him an anatomy lesson in the middle of his class.

It was a great reminder though, that my body is not made for regular yoga, and most especially not for cookie-cutter yoga. The humiliation, I can deal with — in my early yoga days, I got a lot of it. That’s why I am the kind of teacher I am: I always ask people what’s going on for them before I offer adjustments, and I am very mindful with my language.

Wouldn’t want anyone feeling like a reject yogi, now would we?

Or maybe I have it wrong, and yoga really is only for the super bendy, those whose butts don’t get in the way, and whose legs rotate a full 360 degrees in their hip sockets.

 About Nadine Fawell

Nadine Fawell’s edit button doesn’t work: if there is something inappropriate to be said, she will say it. Often in yoga class. She drinks coffee and swears and sometimes she thinks deeply about life. You can find her at

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  1. Jenifer says:

    Your modification is my #1 go to modification for everyone and their grandmother. For serious, that SI joint is for realz and needs the right kind of loving or it gets all outta whack and tries to rob banks and stuff. Or, really, just because a pain in the ass.

    Anyway, you tell it true. Modifications for everyone! :D

    • Jenifer says:

      dude, i can’t write in the am. many apologies. because-become.

      • Nadine Fawell says:

        @Jenifer: am = amen!

        I prefer ‘my’ version of triangle too – but there are bodies out there that can do the fancy pants version too.

        We really are all different!

        • Jenifer says:

          That is true, but as far as I can tell — you know, from my teaching — it takes a long while for the average person to get there, and some of us never will, so knowing that you have options — as a student, that there are options — is quite nice.

          Some of my folks don’t even straighten the leg yet, on account of how it affects their hip alignment and thereby lower back and such, you know?

          Let it unfold, no force. :) I try to keep yoga non-competitive.

  2. Isabelle says:

    I say bring it on! Blocks, straps, bolster, modification, pulley and crane, ANYTHING to enjoy the pose and love my body doing it. I’m well over 200 pounds (that’s right, get over it) and practicing nearly every day for the last three years and feeling a million times better than when I was a skinnier aerobics fiend. It’s not that your body doesn’t bend right for yoga, it’s that Ananda’s teaching doesn’t bend right for his students, and that is plain not cool nor yogic.

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Bwhahahaha! Pulley and crane! Isabelle, you are a cracker!

      And you are SO RIGHT: weight has nothing to d with whether we should/shouldn’t can/can’t be doing yoga. We all have a soul that needs nurturing. We are all made of the same stuff :)

      Amen sista!

  3. Cookie says:

    Did Ananda know you were a teacher, is what I’m wondering. If not, he may have smelled it on you, and felt the need to really show his superior Teacher-ness. You obviously tried to explain to him that you knew your body well, and had a lot of experience with the pose.

    What is the etiquette, do you owe it to a teacher you drop in on to tell them you are a teacher? Should it matter? Anyone have an opinion about this, either from the drop-in’s or the teacher’s perspective?

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Cookie, you know, I wondered about that myself. But I think it comes down to respect and maybe experience: he saw I was resistant to the adjustment and, instead of backing off, kind of humiliated me instead. Probably just a bit inexperienced as a teacher. At least, that’s what I hope.

      He would have been trying to piss higher on the teacher tree. Would he?

  4. Lara says:

    Nadine. I love the pictures you added. You have the greatest curves and I’m sure, are a fabulous example to your students. I teach Anusara yoga, and we actually teach that the back leg turns in so as to widen the back of the hip joint, leaving more room for expansion. Your triangle pose looks just lovely to me. Don’t let your brain talk you into thinking your body doesn’t bend right. The paradigm of the hips having to be cranked open just doesn’t work for you. What those hips have done for you is to make you aware of every body’s unique challenges and individual needs. Sounds like your hips are what makes you a better teacher.

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Hey Lara!

      I am a bit of a fan of the Anusara alignment instructions – that’s how I learned to do a decent headstand and also handstand. Bless us chair-sitters, we just bend in different ways, don’t we?

      Thanks for admiring my curves, too – they thank you!

  5. T.A.H. says:

    I was sent a link to Nadine’s website earlier this week. She has a sample clip from her new video there. I watched 20 seconds of her fabulously normal non-cookie-cutter self doing amazingly competent non-cookie-cutter yoga. I immediately went to order my copy, because I needed it. I needed to see someone outside of my weekly class (which is great, btw, w/ a experienced teacher who treats us all as unique), that I could have at home, to grab at dawn or at dusk, when I just need some encouragment, a routine to follow along with, when I’m just too tired to come up with a sequence myself…. that wasn’t the usual yoga-elitist rubbish that makes me want to reach out and choke the screen rather than reach inward and find something more peaceful. So, glad to have found this piece here to read as well — funny, and still spot on…. just cannot wait to get my dvd!

    (…. & nope, I’m not a friend of hers helping her plug her wares. Don’t know her from Eve. Just calling it as I see it.)

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      T.A.H., you are remind me to send you your bribe. I don’t know what it is yet, but I am sure I can come up with something! I totally hear you on the yoga-elitist thing.

      Have you SEEN my ass? One of the reasons it took me so long to make a DVD was that I thought, heck I don’t look like those yoga girls, I am just too…round. And my arms and shoulder sare too broad. And….

      You get the general idea. I am so glad my normalness appeals!

      Thank you, thank you! Mwah!

      • T.A.H. says:

        haha — you are welcome, Nadine. I think your normal, fabness will be a hit. As for me, it’s the boobs — big daily reminders that most classical yoga poses were designed by skinny sadhus w/ no mammary glands.

        I think there are some people out there that fear that adapting asana or using props is some manner of yogic sacrilege. But far from it. I think the fact that poses can and are adapted, and the physical and non-physical benefits are still so apparent, only shows the genuine timelessness of yoga and how universally its benefits spread across time, space, continents, and post-natal mummy boobies everywhere!

      • Tori says:

        I am just too…round. And my arms and shoulder sare too broad. And….

        And… you’re inspiring me to check this out. I have zero DVDs and only a few in-person classes where the instructor’s body looks like mine. Especially when it comes to media representations, that would be a cool thing to see.

        • Nadine Fawell says:

          It’s funny, isn’t it?

          How the current fashion for a certain body type permeates everywhere. I must tell you ladies, we were once in fashion too – look at all those Rubens paintings!

          Also, we just have to look for ourselves in the media – we are out there, especially on the blogs and other co-operative media. Yay for variety!

  6. Claire Hegarty B says:

    Nadine, your post made me laugh and laugh. It also gives me encouragement that even though my booty is large,and nothing bends the right way even after a year practicing, yoga is still for me!

  7. Sara says:

    Nadine – How do you get your SI to go back in? I’m pretty sure Triangle is what has caused my 10 year problem with SI dysfunction. I’m cringing at the description of the yoga teacher who makes you do the pose the “right” way. Thanks so much for the post.

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Hi Sara!

      I have to say, ‘wrong’ triangle was REALLY unfortunate for my SIJ’s too. As well as all the lotus things because I really don’t bend that way. And shouldn’t.

      I found that the nest things for my SIJ’s were things that allowed the area to relax, followed by practices to strengthen the glutes and core.

      Best poses to allow the joints to ease back into place: supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose) with a washcloth folded up under the SIJ – kind of like a sacro wedgy (google them).
      Legs up the wall, spending time focusing on how your hips and pelvis feel, and relaxing through those muscles, imagining the pelvis is spreading and relaxing into the floor. You might need padding so there isn’t too much pressure on your back.

      WHen you are nursing a bum SIJ, it’s safer to avoid split-leg poses of any description, including warrior one, triangle, any of those really!

      Symmetrical squats are great to build strength in a way that doesn’t encourage your pelvis to move too much -goddess squat, utkatasana, etc. I also particularly love plank for it’s all-over strength benefits…

      And child to keep the hips, especially psoas, and the quads, a bit stretched. On bad days, bum elevated off heels.

      I have a short sequence of this sort here:

      And lastly, you might look into a bit of prolotherapy – it’s a treatment that helps stabilise the ligaments and it REALLY helped me – I wrote about it, and the emotional stuff that made my back hurt here –

      Hope that helps, and more questions, just ask xx

      • Eleanor says:

        Loved your post and these suggestions.

        I have that sacro-wedgy thing and can attest to its effectiveness. I have chronically out-of-whack hips, psoas, and SI joint, plus a cranky piriformis muscle – the “girdle of pain,” a massage therapist once called it. One component of this area starts to hurt and pretty soon everything else is aching too. The sacro-wedgy somehow puts it all back into alignment. I think because it stretches those muscles while you’re in a relaxed, passive position. Often we unconsciously tense up while stretching because we expect discomfort. Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a plug, but if you have pain in your hips & low back you might want to give this thing a try.

  8. Chrissy says:

    Good for you! Your yoga is great for your body..I had an instructor who would make it his mission to manipulate me physically throughout his entire class…he would go..”not this….THIS” “not that way….THAT way” while feeling the need to hold me in the pose ( for what felt like creepy forever…while my friend was lost in in sea of horrified laughter on the mat next me) after class he had asked if I had ” learned anything” ….I shrugged and said “yeah….I now know for sure that my body only goes a certain way…what I’m unsure of now, however, is if we are dating..because I think that we made it to second base”….he was taken aback but got the point….

  9. Debbie says:

    I loved your story. You are so right- we need to listen to our bodies and not everyone is going to look the same in every pose. What is so great about yoga is there are so many modifications and varitations of poses! I have been to 15 yoga studios in the last 6 months. I just moved across the country and have been looking for the right class for me. Sometimes I skip the vinasa and hold down dog. Other times the bind isn’t what I need to do. In the end, we are all our own teachers :)
    PS. Your body is great! I love to see confident curvy women respresenting yoga!

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Wow, that’s a LOT of studios, Debbie!

      Good onya. And thanks for the vote of curvy – we are all different! Even at my most anorexic, when I was a young, somewhat lost girl, I had an arse. You can imagine how that antagonised the Anorexia Beast…

      • Globert says:

        jennifer winzelerI bveelie in my heart of hearts that real growth. Permanent transformation, never takes place as a result of beating ourselves into submission. It is not until we bveelie beyond a doubt that we are accepted and loved no matter what (by ourselves) that the truest parts of our being stop hiding and come out to play. And this is when it really gets good. Mmmmmmm. Really good. Sure. Take a good hard look at where you are. What it all looks like and feel the feelings that come up as a result, but stay safe in all your judgements surrounding it, without moving through the pain anger resentment to a place of forgiveness and you miss the gift as well as stifle your growth and risk knowing and allowing others to know your truest self.Such a fine line between getting real and getting real.

  10. Karen says:

    I also went to a class like that once! This was after 3 months in India and doing my teacher training, I go to a class in Hong Kong, where most of the students were relatively new to yoga I could see. But the teacher picked on me the entire class and apparently just about every single asana I did was “wrong”. She came and adjusted me on every other asana, and when she didn’t, she verbally told me to adjust my posture repeatedly (even when I just sat down and crossed my legs to chant aum. She complained about the arch in the lower back while I was trying very hard to make it as flat as it can possibly be…). I felt so humiliated, like I was a “reject yogi”. But then I thought, aren’t teachers suppose to establish some kind of rapport with you first and understanding how your body works before adjusting all your postures and making you feel inadequate??

  11. carrie tyler says:

    Amen Sister. May all the hip-swaying, boot-bouncing yoginis of the world unite. I am right there with you. Good for you for knowing your body and teaching your student’s to respect and know theirs as well.

  12. Warriorsaint says:

    Hallelujah! Another mesomorph like myself with a round bum who does yoga-imagine that?

    What IS it with these Hip Natzies who insist on wrenching someone’s body in to an unnatural position and then blame the body for not cooperating? The first rule I learned in my Pilates training was to “teach the body in front of you” which includes listening to the student.

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      I think it may be a lack in their training, you know: I wasn’t taught any of this in my first yoga teacher training. You are super-lucky (or super-smart) that you picked a training that covered these things properly. It’s a big responsibility, having people’s bodies in our hands like that. We should know what we are doing – or know that we don’t and back the F*&% off.

  13. David says:

    I picked up a wonderful habit from one of my teachers. As you start to adjust a student you ask them ” how does that feel?” not only is it helpful in letting me know how far I can take them, it also gives the student a sense of particitation and empowerment.

    I originally trained as a dancer. The path of pushing bodies to get it “right” didn’t seem to kind to my body.

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Hey David!

      Great habit – I do that too, learned from injury. I also tend to ask, ‘how do you feel,’ or, ‘are you comfortable?’ before I even go in for an adjust.

      Dance would have taught you all about pain, I suspect :)
      But I bet you can also do some very flashy stuff, and that can be fun sometimes.

  14. Sarah Willis says:

    Love this post. You have a gorgeous body, and your Trikonasana looks splendid. Yoga is not meant to be cookie-cutter, and Ananda sounds like he has drank a bit much of the Orthodox method cool-aid. This is the problem with Yoga when it is faced with systems. Folks tend to objectify the system and forget the individual in all of their glory and unique creative process. As Swami Sacchidananda famously said, “Truth is One, paths are many.” Keep teaching individuals appropriately, and rocking that Trikonasana, girl. I’d love to take your class.

  15. Shula says:

    What a fucking idiot.

    Sorry, but someone had to say it.

  16. Nadine Fawell says:

    You know the strange thing though? He had this weird trick to get people into flashy forward bends that really worked, and he had a selection of good stories – you know, the explaining the spiritual side of yoga in a pretty cool way stories.


    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      I’d had the same thing with the spiritual patter and the examples of how he’d experienced samadhi along with the forcing and the trickster/techniques (or drill-sergeant force majeure– whichever way you want to look upon the same thing), just substitute backbends and inversions for forward bends … he’s not actually teaching students much any more …

      That type either sort of gets “kicked upstairs” or does something else … tough crowd over here on the East Coast of the U.S.

  17. Kimberly Johnson says:

    Not sure exactly where to start. So I will just say that I can relate to this in so many ways. And I LOVE your photos.

  18. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Once in Warrior II, a teacher gave me the “correction” of pointing my tailbone to the floor. Then proceeded to poke me just above my butt crack. Like you, I didn’t want to be disrespectful and interrupt the class. I am a teacher, but when I’m a student in someone else’s class, I am the student! She wasn’t happy, so poked again, gave the same cue again. Still nothing on my part. Then told me to try to straighten out my back. I finally turned around and said, “Do you see the size of my ass? That’s as pointed-to-the-ground as my tail bone goes!” I tried to say it in as light-humored a manner as possible, but she was not amused. She returned all of her 100 pounds, stick-straight figure to the front of the room.

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Do you see the size of my ass? Hehe.

      I guess it takes practice to ‘see’ bones underneath muscles and shape :)

      And then still, without x-rays, who knows what the real deal is…

  19. kiwi says:

    Exactly!!… all bodies are different and some times it’s just going to be bone on bone, with no more room to stretch. I have very tight hamstrings and in down dog my heels very rarely touch the ground, I once had a Yoga teach grab my ankles and shove them down to the ground. OUCH!! My achilles hurt for 2 weeks!!! I am a teacher and adjustments should always be gentle and if the first one doesn’t work, move on… no need to make a huge scene!

    • Jenifer says:

      woah! i purposefully teach “heels up” because it helps get the hip/spine alignment nice and long and open. hamstrings/etc will open over time! that’s an ouchy one to force!

  20. wendy says:

    You rock Nadine.

    A woman after my own heart. My triangle pose is also wrong, like yours, I also had an Iyengar teacher stop the class, had everyone stand around as I went to the wall so that we could open my hips. He literally shoved the top of my pelvis against the wall with a force that was abusive, and I still carry a viscera memory of the pain in my SI and hip flexor area. It took several weeks, maybe months for the injury to heal.

    When I teach, same idea s you. I am SO mindful to use language that includes everyone! Never to say, “this pose is easy…” because the person who hates the pose “can’t” do it, then feels like a failure. Oh my, never like that.

    External yoga shapes are a “by the way” product of conscious movement, breath, awareness and enjoyment. That’s it.

    At minimum teachers need to study Paul Grilley’s DVD about bones. That’s it, they did not act like muscles. If you only have 40% bony mobility in a joint you are not a loser.

    with you all the way.

    • Jenifer says:

      I, personally, don’t “follow” Grilley’s explanation. It is one of *many* anatomical theories, so it’s good to know information, but it’s still worth remembering that there are other theories as well!

      I really like the web site — which gives a lot of great information about how joints function. This “bone on bone” stuff isn’t necessarily accurate (sometimes it is) — but compression in a joint (bone on bone) can be opened through working or aligning the joint to allow freedom between the bones.

      But, there is always a point where ligament, tendon, muscle, and bone need to *stop!* based on individual anatomy. :)

      • eleles says:

        Hi Jenifer, I love Exrx too – but it’s Is that the same site you like?

        • Nadine Fawell says:

          Hi ladies!

          Wendy, thank you!

          I tend towards The Bible Of Paul Grilley too, but I have formed some of my own opinions over the year too, as one does. I wouldn’t necessarily be happy letting my students hang into hyperextension, for example – I’ve found that stabilising my tendency to do that has reduced my pain significantly.

          I’ve also learned loads from Susi Hately Aldous. I love how simply she explains things, so anyone can understand it, and how she encourages people to always move in their pain free, relaxed, range of motion.

          Great discussion, I’m trotting off to check out that other site now, thanks for the heads up, Jenifer xx

        • Jenifer says:

          yes, that must be the one. :) i do this while my 3 yr old is on my back (as in, literally). :) forgivings? ;)

  21. linda says:

    I also have a lower back like yours, Nadine. And Paul Grilley’s anatomy DVD should be required viewing for ALL yoga teachers.

    I remember him saying once how idiotic it was for yoga teachers to insist that the lumbar spine be “straightened” when it has a natural curve! like “tuck your tail in chair.” I remember those instructions — before I knew better — and remember thinking, “this feels like shit on my low back.” He said that instruction comes from ballet instructions. And I know how screwed up ballet dancers’ bodies are because when I taught at a jr. college, many of the young women students had done ballet early on. EACH told me how much pain they were in when they danced and how it did not feel right for their bodies — EACH ONE had a messed up back.

    • Mike W says:

      Hi Linda,

      I love reading your posts and have enjoyed your blog on many occasions.

      Not usually someone who comments but I feel compelled to here. You are absolutely right about most ballet dancers having lower back pain. But I just want to make the point that this is a result of terrible instruction. Consttantly tucking the tailbone under is what the vast majority of ballet teachers instruct young students to do but from a dance technique perspective this is actually quite wrong. Attempting to balance on one leg having grossly distorted the shape of the lumbar spine is not only uncomfortable and dangerous but nearly impossible.

      I was a professional dancer (in a major American ballet company) for 15 years and now at nearly forty have no back or hip problems whatsoever, having been trained from the start to keep a light engagement of the lower abdominal muscles and the natural curves of the spine present while dancing.

      Granted, meeting and studying extensively with Paul Grilley and a ton of other brilliant asana teachers over the last 10 years hasn’t hurt either.

      Just making the point that you should any dancer you meet tell you that they were taught that by their ballet teacher… tell them they need a better ballet teacher.

      • linda says:

        “result of terrible instruction. Constantly tucking the tailbone under is what the vast majority of ballet teachers instruct young students to do but from a dance technique perspective this is actually quite wrong.”

        exactly my point. and Paul’s point. I would have been terrible at ballet (have never taken a dance lesson in my life) because of the curve of my lumbar spine and my extremely internally rotated femurs, and if you’ve studied with Paul Grilley you know what I’m talking about. however, in “free-form” dance like Nia, I’m the bomb, baby…. ;) :D

        • Jenifer says:

          I’ve not studied with Grilley (as I wrote above, his perspective is one of many theories; i have my own teachers — who are physiotherapists such as and this second one is the guy who is in our health center, plus several others such as and as I mentioned above . . .

          But I totally know what you are talking about. What a lot of people think moves the tail bone by “tucking” is such a HUGE mess and a horrid understanding of how the gluteus, thighs, and calves work in supporting the pelvic floor. Just by properly activating the gluteus medius, you get a completely different alignment in the pelvic floor, and how the thighs activate and rotate out of this is just unbelievable! Just this little cue in mountain pose — accessing the medius — makes a HUGE difference for both the lower “core” strength *and* the lower back strength!

          But, you are so right about people simply not knowing, and then making “commands” that they don’t get.

          I remember one “Scoop the tailbone!” and I didn’t know what it meant, but the teacher kept saying it and ultimately “tucked” (as in deeply tucked) and wanted me to squeeze the whole glute (all three muscles), and then “bend” out of there. Can I say to you that i had MAJOR back pain for DAYS after this.

          I now just do what I know, and if a teacher is overenthusiastic, I just say “oh, i’m nursing a little injury there, thanks.” And that’s it. Usually a lie, but seriously, I need to protect myself without getting into a huff. Sometimes I’ll say “could I have no more assists please? i’m feeling overwhelmed.” And that often works too.

          I give a lot of hands on assists, but I certainly keep it light and respect people’s right to say no, and also if their body isn’t moving, I just go “ok, today not so much, huh? :D ” and we have a nice laugh about it. It’s fine. You know?

          But, i’m totally modifying based on the individual 100% of the time. I want people to back off, most of the time, and work with where their body *is*. Otherwise, you’re just going to hurt the student, and that’s the antithesis of all this stuff.

          I would definitely recommend checking out the Symmetry for Health seminars if you are in the US. I’m lucky that we have Nik on our premises to work this out. We also have a feldenkrais guy, acupuncturist, and several massage therapists and exercise and sports scientists (and a former dancer or two) who can come in with all of their amazing knowledge and information to share. Not to mention our energy workers. Good lord! I’m blessed. :D

        • Nadine Fawell says:

          Hi you guys!

          Look, I agree with the not-tucking-tailbone thing, because it Doesn’t Work For Me either, and it switches off my ability to engage mull bandha and, by extension, uddiyana bandha, but it might, for another type of body.

          I had this discussion with a group of teachers last week, they were explaining the Yoga Synergy method to me. That method does involve a tucked tail and loads of people apparently get loads of benefit from it.

          Just as long as I am allowed to do my thing, that works for me, everyone’s a winner :)

  22. Eartha says:

    My apologies in advance, but in my opinion, this “Ananda” is demonstrating a rather unhealthy way to treat one’s students. As a Kripalu yoga instructor, my main goal is to open the gateway for my students to find their own yoga. Any movement, with breath, mindfulness, and intention is yoga. Yes, I guide students through sequences, and lead asana holds, but that is only the very base level. In Kripalu yoga, it is believed that the very highest form of yoga is continuos natural movement with breath while in deep meditation. I believe that this is how yoga began, and is yoga in it’s purest state. Diving inside and tuning your inner awareness to the point at which the asanas become spontaneous – dictated only by the energetic (pranic) guidance already inherent within our bodies (but often ignored).
    Granted, most of my classes are structured around the basic level, filled with sequences and specific poses, but even within those poses, I always encourage every student to find their own teacher within them. That teacher knows a helluva lot more about them then I do. And rather than providing “corrections”, I choose to provide inquiries. Rather than forcing a student to contort unnaturally, I’d rather ask them what it might feel like if they opened their heart more, or pushed through their feet, or envisioned a thread pulling their crown upwards. Sometimes I’ll offer assistance by allowing them to push a part of themselves into my hand to see what that feels like.
    But in the end, it is my belief that there is no “final perfect pose”. I do not believe yoga is meant to be static. I believe asanas are mere snapshots of continuous movements, and even asana-holds are filled with micromovements that should be welcomed and acknowledged, and I’m afraid I have a hard time with teachers who agressively assert specific “rights” and “wrongs” to the point of alienating students from connecting with their own natural inner wisdom and guidance.
    Yoga is for *everyone*! If you can breathe? You can do yoga.
    ∞ ♥ – Eartha -
    ps. My pelvic girdle/illiac joint is the same way, with my greater trochantor either wishing to balance when meeting my illium, or collapse inward at the anterior superior illiac spine….so I see multiple varieties of triangle pose. If I wish to keep my hips open & square to the side (with my spine straight) I only lower my hand as low as my knee. If I wish to go into a deep triangle (such as you are demonstrating) I have to either allow my spine to curve to that side OR collapse my femur behind my anterior superior illiac spine. In my training, keeping the spine straight was of importance first and foremost in triangle. Choosing to collapse into the top of the femur was just considered an alternative triangle.

    • Jenifer says:


      I love the method too. I tell my students that the practice belongs to them — i’m just teaching a skill that they use in their way.

      I get a bit prickly around ideas like “pure form” and “original” and so on — as it smacks of a sort of dogmatism. I really cannot say what is “pure” or “original” — there has been so much sharing over time, so much integration and beautiful interaction between east and west, particularly in the modern age.

      But I do teach yoga as meditation-in-motion, mindfulness practice within asana practice, and so on. I don’t know if this is right or pure or great or whatever. I just know it works for me and for my students and it’s what I enjoy.

      And that there’s no one right way to do yoga. Everyone is an individual. They will be doing their own yoga.

      • Nadine Fawell says:

        Eartha, sounds like you are teaching yoga, right there – maybe even ‘real’ yoga!

        SOrry, couldn’t resist that. Dogma schmogma I say. And Eartha, you have more lateral movement than me – I couldn’t even get my hand to my knee if I kept my hips open – and it’s true, there are many ways to, er, skin a cat. I’m just glad I found a pain-free way to practice a pose I love!

        And that there are so many people out there who would let me, if I showed up at their class!


        • Jenifer says:

          I use peeling oranges. Skinning cats is really much messier. And I don’t like mess.

          (also, to clarify, i was pointing out language that i don’t use because of how it makes *me* feel, not saying that eartha is at all dogmatic or that i think she is. :) )

  23. Donna says:

    You know, as a yoga teacher I would look at your Triangle and say ‘BEAUTIFUL!’ — You don’t always see the torso so equally extended on upper and lower rib cage. You’re lined up over your front leg for goodness sake!

    That incident was one of the ‘unfortunates’ that can turn a newbie off in a Yoga class.

    Thanks for sharing…it will make me even more aware of how I approach adjustments!

  24. Susan says:

    Great post. I’ve been to yoga classes that want to make me look like the perfect yogi, when all my body wants is to move into the pose. I’m aware of my own injuries that might prevent me from moving into that certain look (and I just don’t want to look like YJ model), I came to do yoga. I’ve also been used as the example in the class as the one w/a big ego b/c I wouldn’t let the teacher adjust me into pain. That to me is not yoga and as an instructor, I’m aware that not all my students will be able to bend, will look perfect, nor do they want to go to that place, they are on the path and the journey for some takes as long as it will take. Thanks for sharing.

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Ha! I bet that teacher also used the words ‘honour’ and ‘respect’ at some point in the class!

      I know, I will go put myself in the naughty corner now, for dissing unknown teachers.

      • Susan says:


      • rubyt says:

        omg, toootally!!! i am so loving this post and commentary! so glad to know i am not the only one..

        as a kripalu yoga instructor, i am constantly emphasizing the importance of students honoring their bodies, their wisdom, their practice. i pray to have the same courtesy extended to me in classes, though i have been so frustrated at moments to go to classes only to find my lovely curves made an example of (typically in iyengar-oriented classes, though i’ve experienced frustration in some rigid anusara classes also).

        this has been a great journey over the years, as i’ve learned to embrace my ‘yoga shadow’ and realize that too often i was using my addiction to ‘freedom’ and the emphasis of the kripalu tradition on this to mask my own physical limitations (let’s just say, tons of organic energy–not so much muscular!) … injuries and time have taught me, so i’ve worked to embrace it when assists are offered in the spirit of integrity. and now, i can really appreciate the beauty of anusara and iyengar when taught by skilled instructors that appreciate form (and the freedom which can come from structure), but also appreciate difference within it.

        i just did post on FB of this blog and my own iyengar anecdote, doing a triangle at a class in DC… called a wonky banana and fell over once he twisted me into his insane version of the pose. sooo humiliating!

        finally.. just, so inspiring to read people’s posts on here. sooo effing fantastic to know there are other instructors and students who cherish the same level of spaciousness in class as i. most of the time when i go to classes i’m in the back corner, just using the teacher’s words to cue my own practice… this has been easy at kripalu, but it will be interesting to replicate it elsewhere!

        jai yoga goddess~thanks again for the inspiration!!

  25. Charlotte says:

    Yikes! I stopped trying to make my hips line up that way in the 1990s, but unfortunately it was too late for my SI joint. I do have a lean, bendy, so-called “yoga body,” and as a result, my SI joint is extra sensitive. (Being hyper-mobile is not a state of balance!) Now that I’m in my 50s I’m paying dearly for all those years of trying to “fit my pelvis between two plates of glass” back when I was in my 30s. My SI joint pops out at the slightest provocation, and when it does it’s debilitating.

    Don’t let the Anandas of the world talk you into impertinent alignment cues that they don’t fully understand. My biggest regret about the early years of teaching back in the ’80s is that I used to teach that pelvic alignment nonsense that’s gotten my SI joint into the condition it’s in now. I’m very grateful for the knowledgeable teachers—especially Donna Farhi and Judith Hanson Lasater—who enlightened me about the anatomical realities of the hip and SI joints!

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Hi Charlotte!

      Hmmmm, I am only IN my thirties and my SIJ’s pop out at the slightest provocation.
      Hypermobility blows, certainly in that part of the body.

      But I totally agree, it’s awesome to have the wise teachers on hand – it’s because of Juduth Lasater that I no longer ‘tuck my tailbone’ which is an instant way to pull my pelvis apart.

      • Charlotte says:

        Thank the Universe for teachers like Judith! And thanks for this post. I hope it makes people stop and think about the advice and adjustments so many teachers are giving. Your own body is your best teacher.

        Coincidentally, yesterday I posted a blog questioning what an “advanced yogi” is and is not. What prompted my writing it was a healthy choice I made regarding my SI joint in a class recently. I think it fits well with your post:

  26. Elisa says:

    I loved this post. Similar experiences have made me very hesitant to try new teachers or to sample different studios when I’m traveling. I’m not a teacher, don’t have an impressive practice, but I’ve been practicing long enough to know what my body can and can’t do without pain, and how to modify for my various injuries. I love adjustments, even the “second-base” kind, LOL, but please, let’s get to know each other first. There seems to be a type of yoga teacher who likes to pounce on anyone new to his or her class, with very aggressive adjustments and corrections. It’s like a kind of hazing.

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Second-base adjustments! Bwahahaha!
      You know, Elisa, most of the time, I avoid classes when travelling. I’ve been doing that so long – avoiding WTF yoga, as I call it – that I FORGOT it was out there. Silly silly me.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      You bet it is!

      But I go from, “I’ve been hazed …” feeling bad for a bit … much more quickly to, “They see me as $$ walking in the door …” even much more quickly to “NEXXXXT!”

      I have got that dance down pat. And it goes much quicker now …

      [It's a good thing I have a regular home practice, too. I vowed over a year and a half ago that no studio teacher, especially those of branded neo-yoga, will ever torture me again ...]

  27. ari says:

    You know I have been seeing the same situation all over the community. It makes me a little mad because these types of corrections are why I left the dance world. Yoga is not about trying to make us all look the same. It’s about the individual’s body and working with what they where born with, or had injured or whatever. My triangle should not look like your triangle, because we have totally different bodies and totally different histories with those bodies. AKA: are you in pain? No? Good, be there. Does it feel good? Yes? Fabulouse! Nothing looks like it’s torking or going to shred so…this is your “I rock and feel good pose.” I use to do lots of manual corrections, my degree is centered in Kinese and Teaching Methods for crying out loud. But I have found the best policy is…If several verbal corrections don’t work, there is something more going on and that is a student you should work with after class- find out if it’s just physical and they know what they need, or they can tell you flat out, “I have no idea what your talking about.” Thank you for sharing, all yoga teachers need to hear more stories like this to encourage a degree of caution.

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      I hear ya, Ari: it’s a sad thing, the cookie cutter trend. But we are human, and humans like things to fit neatly into boxes: it seems to make us feel safe, like the world is a more manageable place.

      Ditto inexperienced/poorly trained teachers: it takes a LOT of training and practice to be able to ‘see’ a bit more what’s going on with bodies. In the meantime, a policy of backing off is a good one :)

      I do give manual adjustments, but they are very subtle, generally only a finger touch to encourage people to feel what their muscles are doing. OK, full disclosure: sometimes, when I know people well, I will do stronger adjustments. But only if I know them and their bodies very well, and they are comfortable with me.

  28. Barbara says:

    Great post! I too am a member of the ‘bootylicious ass’ club- [love it!] I’m 47 and my weight fluctuates between 160- 180lbs. I have always felt uncomfortable with instructors trying to ‘adjust’ my body in ways it will clearly never go. I have never done that in any yoga or dance class I have taught unless the person was going to somehow injure themselves or expressed that they felt ‘pain in their asana’…. I’ve gotten used to adapting postures and sets to my own body and felt its only natural to do so with others. Now I teach how to adapt yoga to children with disabilities. I would never have found the rewarding work I do now if I had been stuck on the ‘cookie cutter’ way. Looking forward to reading more from you!

    • Nadine Fawell says:

      Wow, Barbara!

      Your work sounds amazing, and so so useful – I often think yoga’s usefulness really shows up most when the practitioners have a real need- pain, disability, maybe suffering of some sort that can be ease. And here you are going along, proving it!


  29. David says:

    Poor Ananda – he sounds like he doesn’t understand what he’s doing very well. Let’s hope he realizes what’s up.

    I don’t know where the open pelvis thing came from, but I don’t think it’s Iyengar himself. If you look in Light On Yoga, his hip’s pointing at the same angle as yours – he just has a longer stride.

    It doesn’t really make much sense anyway. Alignment should be based on internal, subjective action rather than external, static criteria.

  30. Laura says:

    I came across too many teachers that push their students to strive for the perfect pose at any cost, and i had almost given up on yoga until i started learning by myself what works for me.
    No matter what I do I know that i cannot improve on certain things because of my anatomical alignment (i have knock knees and misaligned arms).

    Since anatomically my knees do not align over my ankles, it makes balance and maintaining certain poses very very difficult.
    I had a teacher stopping a class once because i didn’t stretch my leg in hand-to-toe pose (utthita hasta padangusthasana). He claimed that i had the wrong attitude because i refused to do this pose. I explained to him that balancing on one leg when you have narrow hips and knock-knees is something i have been working on for years (with a strap and leaning against the wall), and if i refused to fully extend my leg in class was simply to avoid falling down and hurting myself.
    He insisted that i set a bad example for other students by refusing to do a pose. What a jerk!

  31. The fast road to enlightenment | RecoveringYogi says:

    [...] day, tail between my legs, because someone had left a slightly nasty response to my blog about how my body doesn’t bend right for yoga (when it was on Elephant Journal). She’d said I obviously need a lot more YOGA if I’m still [...]

    • Bad ass biker suze says:

      The chick who said you need more yoga is a MORON and Arpad and I are going round to do some meditative burn outs out the front of her house. You are a qualified teacher FFS – I think you’d know if you needed to practice more in order to achieve the “perfect pose”. And if that chick is reading this – you are a knuckle head with no idea what you’re talking about!

  32. Joyce in St. Paul says:

    I will always, always, always be grateful to the two yoga teachers who helped me get my modifications right!

    The first is a pro dancer, “classical” Astanga type. But also a massage therapist with education in anatomy and physiology. You know, science! Guided by reason and empiricism, not some dogma! When I had an injury that made it difficult to even walk, she showed me how to get a painless practice back by modifying pretty much every pose I do.

    The second is one of those swaggering athletic yoga boys who can float into arm balances and backbends like it’s nothing. One day he saw me trying to get into a “perfect” triangle, and said, “What’s going on? Is this you?” He showed me the very modification above! For several weeks he kept an eye on me in class, and kept telling me, “Don’t fight with your own body!”

  33. Who Do You Think You Are? ~ Scott Robinson | elephant journal says:

    [...] published by our elephriends over at Recovering Yogi on January 25, [...]

  34. No More Advice! | RecoveringYogi says:

    [...] once again, here I am with someone telling me I can (and should) change my [...]

  35. Yvonne says:

    Today in yoga I looked in the mirror for the first time in a long while and suddenly recalled how my big ol’ butt stuck out in triangle pose and how I couldn’t get my body to look like that perfect “back against the wall” alognment no matter how I tried. Briefly those negative thoughts I had when I first did yoga came rushing back – “I’m doing it wrong” “why can’t I get it?” But then I found this blog entry and it reminded me that I’ve learned (through trial, error and good instructors) how nobody is a cookie cutter yogi. Thanks! :)

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