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Live Well: Word 'should' not helpful in yoga

March 14, 2017 Updated: March 14, 2017 at 4:15 am
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Jennifer Mulson staff mug Thursday, June 12, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

"Should" is a dirty word.

I avoid using it in conversation because it feels hostile, like I'm a Bossy McBosserson telling somebody what to do.

I have no doubt someone in your life (your supervisor notwithstanding) soon will tell you that you should do something. Please let me know how that makes you feel.

Lest you think I'm a strange bird for ostracizing a perfectly useful word that's been around for eons, I'm not the only one aboard the ship.

"'Should' sometimes gives good guidance. More often it just sets unrealistic expectations, induces guilt and decreases your desire to do what you otherwise might want to do," wrote psychologist Susan Heitler in a 2015 blog post for Psychology Today.

Recently I've noticed the word slither into an environment otherwise deemed for healing and self-acceptance: yoga class.

I've attended this particular class regularly for the past couple of months. And while I enjoy the teacher and believe she knows her stuff (she's been teaching for more than a decade and was the first yoga teacher who inspired both my passion for yoga and a desire to turn it into a part-time job), she does have some quirks (don't we all?).

One of them is her frequent use of the word "should," including phrases such as "This should feel good" or "This should be one of your favorite postures."

In this class, for example, we're often told triangle "should" be one of our favorite poses and we "should" enjoy the time spent in it before moving into something more challenging. This always makes me cringe.

Triangle is not even close to being one of my favorite poses. It's a pose I did incorrectly when I first started doing yoga and injured myself. Years later, I still have to be exquisitely careful getting into it on one side so I don't have a flare-up.

I disagree with this "should" approach to yoga - and to anywhere else in life where you're being told how you "should" feel or what you "should" think. Telling yoga students what and how to feel is a big no-no.

What feels good to one student might not to another. A deep hip stretch in half pigeon might cause waves of deliciousness for one person and waves of discomfort for another. While downward facing dog is a slice of heaven to me, it's a tiny bunk in hell for my friend.

Many longtime practitioners likely will brush off a teacher's throwaway comments such as these during class, but those newer to the practice might not. They might wonder what's wrong with their body if triangle isn't their favorite pose or a forward fold doesn't feel good.

Teachers need to create space for students to feel safe in observing their own feelings - physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually - throughout class without any pressure to feel a certain way.

Students must take it upon themselves to practice listening to their own bodies and acting from that space.

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