“Listen to your body” is a common phrase used in yoga classes. But it might leave you wondering what that really means. We’re here to help clear the confusion!
There are varying skill levels in any given yoga class. In most classes, there will be students who are trying yoga for the first time, those who have been practicing on and off for a few years, and those who are seasoned “yogis.” It is nearly impossible for the instructor to modify the class to meet the very different needs of each student (which is why private classes can be a great addition to your practice!). This is why you will hear most instructors preface class or certain poses with “listen to your body” and provide various options (modifications) for the pose. Because only you know your body – where it’s been, what it’s been through, and where it’s at now.
The best way to describe “listening to your body” is the pain factor. Yoga should not cause pain. Discomfort, yes, sometimes. But never pain. For example, say you had a neck injury and it hurts when you turn your head to the left or right. The instructor brings the class into Warrior II. A common queue for this pose is to turn your gaze over your front fingertips, turning your head to the right or left. You, as the student, know that you have neck pain. Rather than turning your head, you keep your gaze toward the side of room that your hips are facing. That is listening to your body! You may feel discomfort in your entire body the longer you hold the pose and your brain may be saying you’ve had enough, but as long as you don’t feel pain you can do it!
Now, there are cases where listening to your body doesn’t involve a pain factor. For example, I have a minor case of diastasis recti (abdominal separation) from my pregnancy. It doesn’t hurt and I don’t feel it unless I look for it. There are certain poses I shouldn’t be doing until I fully heal. Even though doing those poses doesn’t hurt (plank/pushups for example) it can worsen my diastasis recti, which is not good in the long run. To listen to my body, rather than stepping my back into plank from a forward fold, I go straight into downward facing dog. It might be a little different from what other students are doing, but that is OK. Even in a class setting, it is important to remember that this is your practice and it will look and feel different than the person’s next to you.
Listening to your body takes some practice. Sometimes its hard to distinguish what your body is telling you versus what your brain or ego are telling you. But, the more you try to listen to your body, the better you will be able to distinguish between the different “voices.” Ultimately, yoga should help, not hurt! Not many people like to talk about it, but yoga can cause injuries (serious ones at that) if it isn’t practiced mindfully and with purpose. That is why it is important to listen to your body! Before your next class, let your instructor know if you have an injury or history of pain. While the instructor most likely can’t modify the entire class, it helps the instructor know what modifications they can offer for certain poses. And don’t forget that as instructors, we are here to help you! If you have additional questions, ask your instructor before or after class. If you are looking for ways to further your personal practice, consider a private session. One-on-one classes are a great way to learn how to modify poses to further meet your needs, what poses you should potentially avoid, and what poses can help you the most.
We hope you now have a better understanding of what it means to listen to your body. And remember, nobody knows your body as well as you do. May you keep your yoga practice long and strong!
Namaste (listening to my body),