There is no picture perfect in yoga. There is not just one option, one way a yoga pose have to be practiced. There are as many options as people in this world.
It’s very tempting to think that a pose has to be done in a certain way. Guide books will show you ‘how it should be done’. Nowadays there is even a ‘World Championship Yoga’, where people compete and show how ‘perfect’ they are in a pose. A jury awards them for doing the pose ‘good’ or not ‘good enough’. But in yoga there is no good or bad. There is just doing and not doing.
It’s true that every pose has a guideline. Some poses – when performed with a bad alignment – can actually be dangerous for your health. So yes, there is a wrong way to perform a pose. Every pose has its benefits and every pose comes with a warning. But there is no perfect way to do the pose, because every human body is built differently. Every skeletal system is different. We can stretch muscles big time, but we can’t change to structure of our skeletal system. Unless you want to undergo surgery.
Difference between men and women
Take for example your pelvis. There is a big difference between men and women if we look at the pelvis. Men have – in general – a higher pelvis then women. The pelvis of a women is not only lower in height, but it’s also wider. Women have to be able to give birth to a child. They need a wider pelvis for it.
This lower pelvis makes it easier to bend forward. Our forward bend comes mainly from our pelvis and our hamstrings. Having a lower pelvis the back bends easier forward. A wider pelvis makes it easier to get into lotus too. The hip socket is turned more outwards. The femur had to turn outwards as well to be able to get your legs into lotus. Having a wider pelvis gives the femur more room to turn outwards.
Men have hip sockets that are less wide. Their femur will hit the socket of the pelvis earlier. With some men the hip socket is so much turned forward that the femur will hit the hip socket, before it is turned outwards enough to get into lotus. These men will never be able to do lotus, because they have bone to bone compression..
So is it wrong if they sit in easy cross instead of lotus when they meditate? Is it wrong when they can’t do Kukkutasana (rooster) or Tolasana (scale) at the end of the Ashtanga primary series? If you believe the guide books, with models who are picture perfect, the answer is yes. If you believe we can have a world championship yoga and everybody is equal so we can compare two bodies, the answer is yes as well. But if you keep in mind that we are all built differently, the answer is no.
This is also why it’s hard to teach big groups. I know there are yoga studios in the United States where fifty people are practicing yoga at the same time. It brings in money and if you say people are responsible for their own body and own practice it’s doable. But as a teacher you can’t give all fifty people the attention they deserve. You can’t help them all. There are just too many body types present.
Yoga is an old knowledge. Gurus would choose a student; somebody they would think was ripe to be taught the knowledge of yoga (the whole knowledge, not just the poses). A guru would have one, two, three, maybe four or five students. Not more. So he could devote his attention to his students. Help them grow. He would also make a personal yoga (asana) practice for all of his students, depending on their mental and physical need. Yoga was in those days a tailor made practice. We made a practice for the public out of it. For the big crowds. But if we really want to help people, we should go back to the old days again and look at the need of our students, look at the body type of our students, look at their skeletal and muscular system and make a yoga practice which will help them grow.
I know it’s hard to make money as a yoga teacher. There is so much competition out there nowadays, rent for studios is high and we want to teach and survive. Making tailor made practices is almost undo-able. Next to that; there is a power in practicing together, flowing through the same series together, so it’s hard to go back to the old days. But we can make a start by letting go of the idea that somebody has to be picture perfect when they perform a pose, by bearing in mind that every skeletal and muscular system had different possibilities and different limitations and tell our students there is not such a thing as being picture perfect in yoga. There is just doing yoga or not doing yoga. So let’s do yoga.