Being Bad at Living Yoga

In Lifestyle by Kelsey Nimmo, MA, LPC, LLMFT

You would think so, right? When I went through my yoga teacher training, the first few months felt like I was part of an elite club. It wasn’t that I could do all the poses but I certainly was proud that I knew the right technique. I knew how to make tiny tiny modifications that would change the feel of the entire pose. That was the best part – the dance with my body.

I could also tell the difference between a student practicing from their heart and one practicing for aesthetics. I could tell the ones who weren’t listening to instructions and instead, were doing the things they thought they saw on Instagram – without being aware that the technique in those poses was harmful to the body in repetition. I loved being able to work with the body, the spine, and the breath to create a perfect dance. I didn’t care that I couldn’t do all of the poses and I even appreciated the beauty in the not doing. I knew it was my own journey and no one else’s.

But. I never expected my journey to be this. Are yoga teachers good at yoga? Of course – thought my brain. I thought that even though we aren’t good at every pose, we are good at living yoga. I was mistaken.

Living yoga would mean that after finishing my teacher training, I wouldn’t have quit yoga after having a falling out with my studio. I was told they were wanting to cater to the young college students and the older stay-at-home-moms. I was told that my niche didn’t fit who they wanted for their studio and that my students wouldn’t be able to relate to me as well because I had dreadlocks and tattoos and didn’t care to purchase the newest Lululemon pants. Living yoga would have meant that despite being confronted with such a disappointing cultural perspective from a yoga studio itself, I would have continued my own personal home practice – or found another studio.

But in reality I was devastated by the break up with my studio. I was disappointed and angry, embarrassed that I still missed my instructors and friends there, sad to have tainted such beautiful memories of practice and community, and discouraged from teaching.

Living yoga would mean that after finding another studio that better matched what I understood to be the true values and ethics of yoga, I would have recommitted to my practice. I didn’t.

It would mean that I would live more according to the yoga sutras (more on that in another post). It would probably even mean re-reading some of the yoga sutras – but I didn’t do that either. Instead, I stepped away from the sutras. I did not practice love, compassion, and forgiveness for myself. I did not carry a regular meditation practice and when I pulled my yoga mat out, the edges wouldn’t lay flat. I knew this meant it had been too long.

Yoga teachers can be good at yoga – but here’s the truth: when we are not living our yoga (on the mat and/or off the mat) we are terrible yogis. We are cruel and critical towards ourselves – and that is certainly not good yoga. I returned to my yoga mat this morning after a three month hiatus. But really it had been 17 months since my last regular yoga practice.

yoga-resized.jpgHere’s what I noticed: Due to scoliosis and 17 months away from moving my body (other than daily living with toddlers), my forward fold and half lift were the same. While hanging forward, my fingertips could only reach a couple inches past my knees. My first two chaturangas were impossible and my mind couldn’t focus. My hips could not bend to a 90 degree angle while keeping my back and/or legs straight. It took effort and concentration to balance on my left side and in some poses, my right ankle felt uncomfortable and pinched. And scariest of all – I couldn’t reach my chin to my chest while also bending my back even a centimeter. If my back was anything but straight and I tried to relax my head to hang heavy, there was a sharp pinching stabbing feeling in my spine between my scapulas.

If you have ever wondered what a yoga instructor thinks about when they return to yoga after a long break, you’re in for a treat.

This morning, while pacing with my breath and following the flow set out for me by the great Down Dog app, my mind did some tremendous acrobatics. It went something like this:

I need to carve out more of this time.
I’ve missed this. It feels so great to get back to it. Why does it take me so long?
This is probably what it’s like when my couples tell me they don’t have sex often but when they do, they wonder each time what took them so long.
How can I fit this into my daily practice again? Could I wake up before the babies?
We need to get the babies sleeping in their own bed.
Ugh, they’ve been so challenging lately. So much whining.
I need more breaks from them.
I feel guilty. I hate that I miss them all day on my days working and then when I’m home with them, I can’t seem to just appreciate them and relax.
I think I could relax more if I could clean out so much of our junk.
It’s interesting that the minimalist movement also is correlated with weight loss. They say it’s because your chi isn’t as stagnant.
I wish I could get back to doing tai chi. I should look up when the classes are.
I should invite my mom to do some tai chi. I bet she would like it.
I feel guilty for not spending more quality time with her lately. We always have the kids with us and that makes it so hard to talk.
She’s been doing all of that painting on her vacation. We should go do a paint and pour together.
How would I fit in time with her? We could hire a sitter so my partner can get some solo or social time, too. But if we’re going to hire a sitter, I’d really like to use that time and money on date nights.
Oh yeah, I’m breathing.
I remember this dance.
I should have gotten back to my mat long before this. I feel guilty and sad about that. I’ve missed it.
My body misses it, too. It feels so unfamiliar. It never used to hurt like this. It was never this tight.
I need to write all of this down so I remember why I don’t want to take such a long break again.
I can’t take long breaks anymore because I’m getting older. My body used to jump right back in after months away. Clearly those days are over.
I don’t know how I feel about aging.
Maybe I could write about it.
Should I take pictures of my form to show the imperfect and real of trying to practice yoga as you get older without a steady practice?
Would it be weird to have photos of my body doing yoga where clients could see them? Would people think I’m not grateful for being as able-bodied as I am?
Why aren’t there photos out there of people trying to do the poses but their bodies just can’t right then? Why are there only perfect pictures?
Oh yeah, I’m breathing.
I love stepping back into down dog. It flows. The dance. It’s beautiful.
Three-legged dog reminds me of my first 60-day challenge in yoga when I first started practicing.
I felt limitless. I got that infinity tattoo because of it – back before infinity tattoos and hot yoga were trendy.
I feel sad that I allowed my body to reach such a stiffness.
Oh yeah, I’m breathing.
This chair pose feels like I’m wringing out all the stiffness.
Why did I get so disconnected from something I love so much?
I feel sadness.
Oh yeah, I’m breathing.
My arms are tired.
Stay for the exhale.

Are yoga teachers good at yoga? I don’t know. I know that even though two chaturangas were impossible, I got it on the third. I know that even though my mind wandered, eventually it took less and less time to return to my breath. I know that even though this practice was difficult and emotional, it was gratifying. I couldn’t bow my head while also curling my back when I started but now, only one practice in, the sharp painful stab has transformed into an aching discomfort and my spine isn’t locked.

So I bow my head in gratitude and I promise myself that when I once again allow my mat to stay rolled for too long, I won’t make the return home trip such a bummer. Instead, I’d like to be playful and forgiving. And also stay for the exhale.

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To set up an appointment with Kelsey, email her at kelsey@kzootherapy.com or contact her here: