Earlier this week I wrote about the amazing synergy that occurs when different mental types come together to teach yoga (you can check out that post here). An equally cool and balanced perspective is offered when different body types join up to instruct, and that is another of the awesome advantages of co-teaching I get to experience when I lead The Yogic Life Intensive with the lovely Neesha Zollinger.
If you happen to know both Neesha and I, you already know that we’ve been put in two pretty different physical containers for navigating this world.
Neesha has been a dancer all her life, and you can see that in her body. She has what we call a “vata” body type with long limbs and a light frame. She’s thin, graceful, and beautiful.
I’ve got a fairly different body, which is classically “pitta.” I’m strong and solid, with pronounced musculature, a stouter frame, and some, uh, curves.
Contrary to popular opinion, neither one of these frames is better or worse for yoga or for life – they each offer unique experiences for navigating in the awesome earthbound journey we’re on. When Neesha and I co-teach, we’re constantly reminded of this – and so are our students.
There are some poses that are easier for some body types than others. Neesha can do vashisthasana (side plank) with amazing ease. Her long and light limbs seem to fly into the air and form beautiful lines in this asana. I can do the pose well also, but for me it took a bit more work to get the length in my hamstrings for my hand to reach my toe with my leg fully extended. It may not be quite as pretty of a pose, but once I’m there, I can stay there forever. My sturdy frame and strong shoulders have no trouble supporting me. Similarly, I can hold myself in handstands for several minutes, and do planks and chaturangas ‘til the cows come home. Neesha can absolutely do these poses well, but she’s had to work to build up the stamina to hold them.
When we co-teach, we can show different ways to get into poses based on the advantages of each body type.
Case in point: Astavakrasana.
Astavakrasana or 8-angled pose is a fun asymmetrical arm balance.
There are two main ways to get into this pose. One is to press up into an easier arm balance – usually bhujapidasana – first, and while hanging out in “hover position,” swing your extended leg around to cross over your bent leg. The other is to set up all the leg and arm parts on the floor, and then do a big push up maneuver to levitate up into the balance. For Neesha, the first way in is easier. Her long limbs give her the space to move body parts around while in an arm balance, and her flexibility makes the required maneuvers required accessible. For me, the second way in is easier. When I try to swing body parts around they often hit each other – they’re bigger and there’s not enough open space to move in. However, if I can get all set up first, I have no trouble pressing myself into the pose and staying there, so the preparation on the floor works really well for me.
Not surprisingly, some of our students find one way in easier than another. Most of them have never tried their “hard way,” but in doing so, they learn a lot about the geometry of the pose as well as about what it’s like to struggle. They gain empathy for the challenges of different body types and a better understanding of how to teach to the variety of people that they will encounter in their careers.
Most of all, they – and we – are reminded that our world is a mixture of unity and diversity. In so many ways all of our bodies are the same. And yet, there are wonderful unique differences that emerge in a session of yoga play. We are all so similar, we spirits on this human path. And yes, we are very different too – we have different passions, make different choices, and experience different wonders.
I practice and teach yoga to remember this very basic rule of the universe – that we are all the same, and that we are all different. It’s the duality AND the unity, held together in one activity, one worldview. Co-teaching brings it to light just that much more.
If you are interested in exploring the idea of teaching yoga, or just deepening your knowledge of asana, philosophy, and anatomy, Neesha and I are running our fabulous Yogic Life training again this summer – it’s an RYT-200 Teacher Training, but the first three modules are focused primarily on your own practice and the conversation that is yoga philosophy and our quest for making meaning in this world. You can read A LOT more about The Yogic Life here.