Props versus ego

This weekend in YTT we had a section called “Pose Lab.” The idea is let’s have a couple people that struggle in certain poses do them in front of the group and the group offers tips on how to make the pose more comfortable and create more space in the body.

I, along with some other dog sufferers, volunteered today. Adho Mukha Svanasana, more commonly known as Downward facing dog, has been my nemesis from the beginning of my practice. Many teachers say this is a “resting” pose or a neutralizing pose, but I’ve never found it to be either.  My shoulders are scrunched up by my ears until it looks like I’m wearing fancy flesh earrings, my hands pucker up, my wrists scream, my heals float above the mat, my upper back pushes through toward the floor and the monkeys in my mind hop around like they’ve been hitting the crack pipe. Needless to say, I don’t find dog to be restful or neutral.

 The first day of teacher training our lovely Aunt Mads grabbed a wedge from the prop cart and said, ‘Here try this!” I don’t know why she said this, maybe she saw my grimmace or me rolling my wrists or coming down before everyone else. Maybe she’s just magic. Who cares?

I put the blue foam wedge under my mat, pushed my hands into it. With the wrist compression eased, I found the much talked about comfort in this pose for the very first time. I was amazed that that little piece of foam could totally transform my feelings about this pose and in this pose. My wrists, now at a 45 degree angle, instead of the traditional 90, felt open and lifted. My shoulders felt freer, especially when moved more toward the corner of my mat and I pointed my fingers out a bit. Spaciousness was mine!

So in love with this new found friend, the wonderful wedge, that when I did some assisting in Madeleine’s Yoga Basics class I trotted out the wedge for all to try. I made some speech about how using props can really relieve discomfort in some poses so that you can really feel the pose without the pain. Happily, most of them tried it and some found the same kind of relief.

Enter my ego. I don’t want to be that yogi. You know the one that can’t do anything unless she has all the right stuff. I’ve been struggling recently with the idea of props being crutches or for people who can’t really do yoga. Now mind you, I’m not judging anyone else on their use of props, just mine.

Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga” talks about how props free people from fear and help them build the sense of the pose with confidence. He seems to believe that it’s still real yoga if you are using props, so what’s my issue?

Ego. Ego. Ego.

So in today’s Pose Lab, I went into down dog without any props. It was silent at first, but I swear I could actually feel their concern for my comfort. My tshirt was bunched up about my shoulders creating what I am guessing to be an awesome looking pair of earrings and there were hands everywhere moving it out of the way. Then there were hands offering support and guidance to remove my shoulder earrings.

Finally someone offered me a wedge. I came down out of the pose, placed my old friend under my mat and came back into dog. The energy in the room changed. There were gasps of “Oh so much better!” “Wow, look at her neck!” “That looks so much more comfortable!” All of which were true.

Just for fun, I also tried a wedge under my heels. Being supported under my feet and my hands made down dog feel both comfortable and spacious. What a concept!

It’s my hope that I can learn from this experience. My yoga, it seems, is less about doing what everyone else can do and to take help where I need it.

2 thoughts on “Props versus ego

  1. I seem to remember that Michelle brought ’em out, and I just threw one under your hands…wedges, good stuff. Egos are pretty great props, too, aren’t they?

  2. I’ve become a regular at Kim’s Thursday morning class. She really stresses maintaining the integrity of the pose while modifying in whatever way is necessary. In particular she’s been helping me maintain the lumbar arch while in certain poses. With her gentle encouragement, I’ve been chipping away at my ego — bent knees in dog (with a wedge or using the base board), standing arch with hands on a tall block (or even the seat of a chair!), and other modifications. I hope the support and encouragement of 20 yogis today will help you keep your ego at bay.

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