Confessions of a Yoga Fuddy-Duddy

August 27, 2015    BY Bernadette Birney

I don’t practice eagle pose, or fold forward in pigeon prep.

But my sacroiliac joint isn’t jacked anymore, either.

I don’t hold plank, or forearm plank, for as long as I’m physically capable; because when I stop using my target muscles—and start compensating in my habitual patterns—I feel it. I’m not on my mat to deepen my pre-existing muscular imbalances. I’ve already got scoliosis, fer crying out loud! I’d actually like to build new neurological pathways.

Still, sometimes it’s hard to put my knees down or to come out of the pose.  I want to keep up. I feel that compulsion as much as the next Type-A Person from Fairfield County, CT. I practice putting my knees down anyway. (Hey, did you know that if you hold plank too long, you’re almost certainly not strengthening your abdominals? Yup, you’re probably just overusing already imposed-upon back muscles.)

I’m sorry to say that if you’re looking for fancy-pants choreography, you won’t find it in my class, and you’ll probably be bored.

I don’t teach long strings of asanas on the same side. I’ve pretty much evolved into a right-side pose followed by left-side pose kinda teacher. It’s SO not sexy! But then hobbling around with your S.I. joint killing you probably isn’t all that sexy either. And I don’t collapse into my ligaments and joints as much as I used to. My connective tissue is stiffer—an accomplishment I’m proud of! I know there aren’t any physical benefits to practicing beyond exhaustion, and plenty o’ good reasons not to. I’m sorry to say that if you’re looking for fancy-pants choreography, you won’t find it in my class, and you’ll probably be bored.

If you’re looking for solid sequencing it might be worth your time.

I probably sequence side angle pose into every yoga class I instruct. It’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because it’s a solid way to build strength, to inhabit range of motion, to explore nuanced body awareness, and because—like downward facing dog—it enlists the major muscle groups. I teach basic poses because they offer so much value in their own right, and because they’re great preparation for more challenging poses. I teach them because—although I’ve probably done them a million times—there’s never not something interesting to pay attention to.

I don’t practice or teach a lot of back-and-forth transitions between neutral and open hips. (Using the yoga mat as a frame of reference, that means transitioning between poses where the pelvis faces the front of the mat versus one side of the mat, for example going back and forth between warrior III and half moon, or between warrior I and warrior II.) I’m not into putting that much pressure on the front of my hip joint. I don’t think you’re a bad teacher if you teach those kinds of transitions. I’d probably still enjoy your class. I’ll just put my foot down in between.

I guess I’m kind of a yoga fuddy-duddy.

But I have less pain in my body than ever before. My sacrum is a lot less likely to slide around and jam up. My low back muscles are less pissy because they’re no longer working overtime, all the time. Like Sleeping Beauty after her long nap, my abdominal muscles have rubbed their sleepy eyes and awakened! I have less neck and shoulder tension than I once did.

Okay, my ribs do still pop out of place if I’m not careful, but I try to be careful.

There are poses I once did that I can’t do anymore, can’t do with the same ease, or just won’t do anymore. I probably can’t pop my head behind my front foot in a lunge anymore, but can’t say for sure because I haven’t tried. I won’t be trying anytime soon. I did a couple of arm balances more easily when my connective tissue was less stiff.

There are poses I once did that I can’t do anymore, can’t do with the same ease, or just won’t do anymore.

I’ve always sucked at sticking inversions. That’s the price overly bendy people pay for being able to roll out of bed first thing on a January morning and slap our palms flat on the floor. Well—sucking at inversions, painfully unstable joints, injuries, and hip replacements looming in our futures.

I’ve learned new ways to align my body, from the ground up. I’ve focused on building stronger glutes. I’ve 100% stopped scooping my tailbone. I’ve started creating more stability by lengthening my spine, and addressing my displaced rib cage instead. I’ve learned how to feel a stretch in my hamstrings (and it’s not through static stretching). I’ve stopped pulling my shoulders back when I’m not bearing weight on my hands. I’m trying to stop clenching my jaw so I can access my “core” instead, but it takes a lot of attention, and more patience for nitwittedness than I was born with. (Oh, that term, “core”? Oy. There’s a conversation for a whole utha day.)

Interestingly, I’m stronger. I’m closer than ever before to sticking my handstand in the middle of the room. I take that as a pretty good indication that my muscular patterns are less severely imbalanced than they once were.

Interestingly, I’m stronger.

I’d like to stick my handstand. It would be a personal triumph with over a couple of decades in the making. It would make the perpetual adolescent in me feel less like a fuddy-duddy, and more like a badass.

More than that, though, it’s an adult measure. It’s personal verification that doing more isn’t always better, that working differently may offer more tangible results than working harder, and that being a yoga fuddy-duddy ain’t actually all that bad.

This piece originally appeared at bernadettebirney.com 

Bernadette Birney
Bernadette Birney is a movement specialist who has worked with the human body for over two decades. She emphasizes living comfortably in the body, and creating a safe space and deliberately welcoming events. Her classes offer uplifting philosophy, surgically precise anatomical instruction, humor–and the occasional profanity. Bernadette offers programming nationally and at home in Connecticut. Her articles appear in Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Fit Yoga, Origin Magazine, Elephant Journal,... Read more>>