Ego, Meet Anatomy

I tell my students that every body is different, and that yoga is not about looking like the pictures in the magazine.

When it comes to my own practice, though, ego rears its ugly head. Why in the name of all that is good and holy can I not externally rotate my shoulders in down dog?! My mind SCREAMS that I must do it the right way, despite the fact that every time I do, my shoulder pinches – sending heat lightning up my arm into my neck.

The other day I had a short clinic with my favorite yoga teacher (hi, Dad!) and we discovered that my elbow joint itself is externally rotated – almost as if I’m double jointed. Meaning that in order for my palms to face each other, my shoulders have to rotate inward. Therefore, in poses where my shoulders are opening, my palms flap out open to the sides. All of a sudden my downdog struggles made so much more sense. Even in bridge pose, my arms never lay comfortable on the floor underneath me. Elbows on the floor, my forearms hover in the air. And now I know why.

(If you are an anatomy geek, here’s an additional point of interest: my legs do the same kind of external rotation – leading to pronation and an odd ability to look like an amphibian or a chalk outline of some broken, splayed out body. One friend suggested I take up swimming. Or posing for chalk outlines.)

So, what does difference does this really make? I already knew that my body didn’t want to form the picture perfect posture; that for me, that arrangement of bones and joints just didn’t work. Just because an outside party confirmed this for me – showed me some kind of anatomical proof – why should that make any difference?

But it did. And while I’m open to the idea that this is some kind of scientific brain block – that you can’t always see what’s going on in your own body as easily as you could see patterns in someone else’s – I have a sneaking suspicion that ego plays a huge part in this revelation.

Someone else, someone I respect, has given me permission to follow my body’s needs. Now, why couldn’t I do that myself? I know that anatomy is individual. If I were my student, I would suggest downdog be done with arms open wider, or fingers facing the corners of the mat. Keep a soft bend in the elbows. Who cares what it looks like, as long as the spirit and the benefit of the pose is attained?

Well, apparently I do*. Anatomy comes up against ego once again. And ego never wins. What is right for the masses, is not always right for the individual body. I don’t know how many times I’m going to have to learn that lesson. So. Many. Times.

*And Iyengar, obvi.

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