I can come up with some weird metaphors sometimes. Just talk to my best friend and have her list off some of the nuttier comparisons I've made when giving advice. Life is like a box of chocolates? Nah, life is like a tantruming toddler or the plant from Little Shop of Horrors or a cracked statue of Waldo of the Where's Waldo fame.
(Only one of those is not a metaphor I've actually made, and I plan on finding a way to corporate that one ASAP.)
And -- speaking of complete non-sequiturs -- I decided recently to count how many times I say the word "maybe" in a class.
The number? Forty-one.
Forty-one times in an hour-fifteen class. Granted, this was during an all-levels class, so there will always be room for lots of "maybes" there. But still. That averages out to more than one "maybe" every two minutes.
During one particular pose (and, for those who have been doing their homework, that was half lord of the fishes pose), where there's about five million things you can add on, I said "maybe" about six times.
"Maybe the foot stays on the inside of the knee, maybe it can comfortably move to the outside. Maybe that left leg stays straight, maybe we bring the heel towards our opposite hip. Maybe we hug the knee in. Maybe the elbow comes to the outside of the thigh..."
And all of a sudden my brain piped in, saying to me, "And maybe you can go fuck yourself!"
Sidenote #1: Welcome to how my brain operates.
Sidenote #2: If you ever see me suppressing a grin for seemingly no reason, this is the reason.
Sidenote #3: I cannot stress enough that, in my mind, this was something a hypothetical student would be saying back to me. Never in a million years would I even think of something like that towards my students. Not even with my overactive mind. I adore my students in a way I think all teachers need to in order to properly run a class, but that's a topic for another day.
But, still, maybe (oh geez...) it was time to let go of the million "maybe"s. At the very least find a different way of telling people about all the very-much-voluntary things they can be doing.
Class after class after class later, I still couldn't get out of the habit. I was fumbling over my words, only to revert back to "maybe" like a... well, like a tantruming toddler reverting back to sucking on a thumb (next to the plant from Little Shop of Horrors…oh, I don't even know anymore...)
In the middle of a supine twist (another one of my favorite "million-maybes" poses), after saying "maybe" around three times, I decided to just dive in and indulge in my broken record wording:
"We have all these 'maybe's to remind ourselves that it's not about doing the right or wrong pose, but doing the variation that works for us. We're adding on, not because we think that's what we're supposed to do, or because the person next to us is doing it. We're adding on because it feels right. Think of the pose as a meal, and the add-ons as spices. You're flavoring the pose to what suites your taste buds."
Full disclosure: I might've been a bit hungry during this class.
So what it wasn't exactly my best metaphor. They can't all be winners. Thankfully everyone was lying down so they couldn't see the grimace I was making as the more rational part of my mind caught up with what my mouth was saying and went, "WOMAN do you even THINK before you speak?"
(The answer: I do. It's just with that part of my brain that thinks up scenarios like, "And maybe you can go fuck yourself!")
But, like anything that crosses paths with me, it got me thinking. It got me thinking about how, despite my best efforts, my vinyasa flow class can look a bit like something out of a dance studio, with my students essentially doing choreography as they mimic every single move I make, as I demo every single variation they could do. Everything from the different ways you can do that vinyasa flow (chaturanga -> updog -> downdog) to the different add-ons for all types of poses.
If we're going back to my metaphor, that would be like if they were cooking dinner, grabbing every spice in their cabinet and throwing them all in, with a few of them going, "Shit, shit, shit. I hate pepper. Why did I just put pepper in there?"
I mean, there's something to be said about mirror neurons and our tendency to mimic those we consider authority figures (oh God, does that make me the authority figure in this scenario? Well, shit.) -- but there's also something to be said about the fact that we are a society that values doing what we're told. Doing what we're expected to do. If a boss says, "Jump," you're not supposed to respond with, "Is it okay if I skip instead?"
It's hard to let go of that, even if you're in an environment that is one "maybe" away from putting up a few neon signs that says, "ALL THIS SHIT IS VOLUNTARY."
So I can go on and on about doing what works for your unique body type and mindset. I can go on and on about tuning in and doing what serves you. I can even make crappy spice metaphors, likening each pose to a delicious meal that I obviously should've eaten before teaching that class. And people are still going to do the equivalent of throwing every spice into the meal because that's what they think they're supposed to be doing.
But maybe -- maybe -- that's what they need to do. At first, at least.
Maybe -- maybe -- in order to break themselves of the "doing it because it's what we think we should do," habit, they have to dump every possible spice in and go, "Shit, shit, shit. I hate paprika. Why did I put paprika in there?"
Ideally, this would never have to happen. It's a great way to increase the risk of injury. And there are a lot of people who don't need that; so long as they're in a class that welcomes variations and modifications, they won't overdo it. But, as someone who went into yoga with a runner's mindset -- for crying out loud, I saw full-on studio classes as akin to "making the team" in terms of demonstrating proficiency -- sometimes you have to do something that doesn't serve you in order to check the ego at the door and actually modify to what you need at that given moment.
For me, it took attempting a jump to the top of the mat when I was still nursing a strained hamstring tendon for me to go, "Oh, I shouldn't automatically force myself to do the hardest variation every single time."
Or, in spice terms, "I'm allergic to cinnamon! What the #$%& was I doing putting cinnamon in my meal?"
(I'm not actually, but let's go with it.)
So, where was I going with this? Ridiculous metaphors, my appetite's ability to taint my thinking, and the realization that while, yes, yoga is about doing what serves you best, some people will have to do that choreography, have to add on unnecessarily, in order to realize what whets their palate. And, as a teacher, the main thing I can do is just be there to make sure they don't accidentally choke on their food.