Adversity has ever been considered the state in which a man most easily becomes acquainted with himself. – Samuel Johnson
Pilates and yoga are not the same thing.
Around this time three years ago, I spent a weekend in Stratford Ontario with my father and his friends Linda and Brian. Linda practices iyengar yoga and invited me to attend a class with her. I’d been doing pilates consistently for nearly nine months, so I thought I would be able to handle the yoga class. I was dead wrong (and very humbled) which is why I hate it when people ask me if pilates and yoga are similar. They aren’t at all. My pilates training and everything I had gained from it (and all the months of consistent dedicated practice) meant nothing when I joined Linda in her group class.
Iyengar yoga focuses on correct alignment and posture and uses bands, blocks, mats, and other props in the practice. I struggled through the fish pose, the exalted warrior pose, the triangle pose, the downward facing dog pose, and the eagle pose, flinching with embarrassment when the teacher touched me to gently correct and modify the pose given my obvious limitations. Forty minutes into the class, tears of frustration were leaking from my eyes down my face and into my hair. I watched Linda lie on her mat and lift her pelvis and legs into the air as though she were completely weightless from the ribcage down. She made the practice look effortless. My instructor continually repositioned my head, neck, arms, and legs into the best alignment my body would allow as the class continued. The still-present stiffness in my pelvis, legs, and feet made this form of yoga particularly difficult. By the time the class finished, my throat was closed, my spirits were crushed and I couldn’t even say ‘namaste’ with everyone else as they completed their practice.
I sat down in the chair just outside of the studio and cried (I cry when I’m frustrated). I said to Linda, ‘No matter what I do, it’s never enough.’ ‘Beth’s class is an advanced one,’ she told me. ‘It’s hard when we come up against our limitations.’ She gave me a few more tissues and I cleaned up the mascara that had run all over my face. We met her husband my dad for brunch. I did the best I could to pull myself together and stuffed myself full of lemon meringue pie and strawberry smoothie.
A few days later – upon returning to Toronto – I emailed my doctor and physiotherapist about the experience. They had been working with me consistently since January of that year and had seen my body transform, but I was upset and frustrated and sad. ‘I want to be normal,’ I told them. ‘Even though my walk is better, correcting it is just the beginning of things. I still have to work on stairs and balancing. I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough.’ The latter wrote back, saying my expectations were too high and to look at what I’d already accomplished. She told me that it was human to make mistakes and that I’d already made incredible changes. I agreed, but I was still angry with myself and frustrated that the changes I had made (and was still making) hadn’t applied to yoga and still couldn’t be applied to every challenge I still contended with.
That yoga class was a very sobering wake up call for me in terms of the dissimilarity of different forms of rehabilitative therapy. The message was clear: yoga and pilates are not the same and one can’t be used as a replacement for the other (though practicing both can complement each other). I found that – though it’s still very hard – bikram yoga was a better fit for me and I took to it more than I did iyengar. This isn’t to say that iyengar yoga isn’t beneficial, therapeutic, healing or restorative (it is). It’s just not something I was ready to do at the time. I think I could do fairly well if I committed to building an iyengar practice now, but it would take persistence, dedication, commitment, and a willingness to fail (or at least to fall down) and then get back up again and keep working. This is true of everything in life: everyone encounters setbacks and adversity. A person cannot avoid or wholly defeat adversity, but meet it and contend with it.