What does it mean to “listen to your body?”
Before I did my 200-hour yoga teacher training in 2015, I didn’t think the words “listen to your body” applied to me.
I’ve heard yoga teachers encourage self-compassion and choice in one form or another in almost every class. Some of the sayings I’ve heard:
- “Listen to your body…”
- “You can always modify…”
- “Find your edge, but don’t go beyond…”
- “Some discomfort is fine, but not pain…”
- “Stay in … pose as long as it’s interesting to you…”
- “Watch your ego…”
- “It doesn’t matter what someone else looks like…”
- “You can always go back to child’s pose or downward dog or savasana anytime…”
JUST DO IT
I started to practice yoga when I was 15 because I was stressed out and anxious. Choosing to pay $15 for a yoga class and doing whatever I was told to do with my body for 75 minutes was the extent of my self-compassion. I just knew yoga was good for me. I just knew that I would be OK if I did all the poses offered. So “Just do it” was my motto when it came to getting my butt to the yoga studio and completing the sequence. In hindsight, it was a form of spiritual bypassing. For a long time, I avoided therapy because yoga helped treat my symptoms.
It’s not like I tried many complicated yoga poses or “advanced” yoga classes, but whenever I heard a well-intentioned teacher say something like “listen to your body” or “it doesn’t matter what someone else looks like…” I kind of scoffed at it in my head. I felt like such sayings were only for the weaker ones in class, the less fit. Because I was somehow a “better” yoga practioner, such phrasing never really applied to me.
It wasn’t until I started my teacher training, that I heard my mentor Suzy Green saying something along the lines of (and I am paraphrasing) “Being a good yogi means deciding what’s actually right for your body and choosing to modify…” Oh snap. She was right. And up until then, I was not good at discerning what was right for my body in yoga classes. Honestly, I didn’t like giving myself permission to be more comfortable or “listen to my body” when I took yoga classes.
When I took trauma sensitive yoga training with Morgan Vanderpool at Samdhana Karana Yoga, I learned of a concept called “interoception.” The concept, which was emphasized in the trauma sensitive approach, encourages participants of trauma sensitive yoga to notice sensations in the present-moment and then from these feelings, make a choice. So really, it’s saying “listen to your body… and choose what you want to do with it.” It was shocking to me to learn how much more self-empowering the practice of yoga could be if we just give ourselves permission to do yoga how we want.
So really, it's saying "listen to your body... and choose what you want to do with it."
I wrote a Facebook status recently that perfectly exemplifies how I try to listen to my body while doing yoga.
One important thing to note about what I express here is that it was probably 80% my choice to decide to listen to my body and choose what I wanted to do with it, but I think 20% of it largely depends on where I am at and who the yoga teacher is.
Another example: The other day, I was at another yoga studio. The space was smaller. While doing the standing sequence, I felt feverish and tired, but I kept up with the class. It wasn't until we got onto our bellies for a back bend sequence that I decided to lay on my belly. And once we got onto our backs, I went straight into savasana.
Moral of the story: Listening to your body and choosing what you want to do with it can look different each time. Whether you choose to modify to make something more or less challenging for yourself, or whether you choose to stop practicing, it's the same thing. And it's empowering.