“Am I doing this right?”
It’s a question we have all wondered at some point in our yoga journey: Am I doing this pose right?
I asked this question often in my first few years of yoga, craning my neck to get a better view of my yoga teacher in hopes of making my body into the same shape as hers. I cranked myself into all sorts of shapes in those first few years, even if they felt terrible. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the poses that looked “right” or properly aligned were not always best for my body. I also noticed that making the same shape as my teacher didn’t always mean I felt what she was trying to get me to feel. In pigeon pose, for example, I rarely felt the “hip opening” of the forward outer hip. I mostly felt a general sense of discomfort in my hip flexors. I was making the shape, but not really feeling the intended benefit of the pose.
Realizations like this led to a sense of curiosity. I learned more about anatomy, taking an online course, populating my bookshelf with books in yoga and the human body, and listening to podcast after podcast on movement and yoga.
I learned that the answer to the question “Am I doing this right?” is “It depends.” It depends on your particular bone and muscular structure, your day, your movement practice, what you’ve had to
eat, whether you’re hydrated, how long you’ve been doing yoga, and what kind. (If you’d like to nerd out about why this is the case, you might look into Your Body Your Yoga by Bernie Clark, Stretching Redefined by Jules Mitchell, or the work of Jenni Rawlings and Francesca Cervero.)
Now I would say a better question than “Is this right?” is “How does this feel?” or even “Where am I feeling this?” The answers to these questions change day to day, and possibly from moment to moment. We have all, for example, experienced that wonderful sense of familiarity that comes with doing a pose twice in a class. A pose that seemed daunting at first might seem easier the second time around as the mind and body relax into a known path. The more we practice yoga, the more familiar the path comes each class—even when there are new twists and turns.
Ultimately, I believe we practice yoga to become more in tune with our bodies, and to respond appropriately with movement that nourishes, challenges, or both. If we’re doing that, we can rest assured that we’re doing yoga “right.”