a note on individuality…
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of uniqueness and how this really is something to be celebrated. If my recent ominous silence from blogging isn’t enough of a clue, I’ve been off frying other fish, in particular a big-fat-yoga-teacher-training-course shaped fish and it’s got me thinking A LOT about how difference is something to cherish, not shuffle into a corner and conceal.
First off, we’re all built differently. Ayurveda, yoga’s ancient sister science that governs our health and wellbeing, determines that there are three dominant doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha, each with their own set of characteristics and properties. You’re unlikely to be 100% of one dosha, but instead a mix of all three with one weighing dominant. What works for a Vata dominant individual who, for instance, doesn’t tend to gain weight easily, might be sacrosanct for a Kapha type who just can’t seem to shift excess weight. With all the will in the world you can’t change this.
So often in life, myself included, we take on these blanket statements from ‘experts’ or the media (guilty) about what is and isn’t good for us. All of us. To take a recent example, I’ll talk about coconut oil. I can’t get enough of the stuff, it tastes amazing, I use it instead of butter in baking, blend it into smoothies or just help myself to a teaspoon now and then. But guess what? It’s not suited to my Kapha dominant dosha. Oh. Yeah apparently it increases dampness in my system and to spare you the gory details, this dampness manifests in all sorts of ways from breakouts to bad digestion. I love it. But it doesn’t love me. The same goes for hot cloth cleansers. Many of which are touted as suitable for all skin types. What I hear you cry? I’ve seen that stash of muslins you’re hiding in the blanket box at the end of your bed. I hold my hands up. But as of a fortnight ago when I was lucky enough to be in the skilled hands of the infinitely knowledgeable Fiona Brackenbury of Decleor, I use them no more. It was my road to Damascus moment in the basement spa of the Dorchester. She’s the first facialist ever to point out to me that scrubbing every day with an abrasive cloth is likely to be making my hormonal, breakout-prone skin worse, not better.
Anatomically we’re all different too. No two skeletons are the same. Your major muscle groups have most probably been conditioned into certain behaviours from a young age. In class, my fellow yogis in training illustrate this perfectly. Bindi can’t practise shoulderstanding because of a prolapsed disk. Gwen is super flexible, like Olive Oyl from Popeye, but because of this she has to be mindful not to flare her ribs wildly in the most elastic backbends I have ever seen. Meanwhile I still can’t lay my hands flat on the mat without bowing out my knees from years of ‘turning out’ at ballet. Instead of working against these differences towards some sort of mythical norm, we are slowly learning to accept and celebrate our differences. We’re not identikit robots built from pressure-moulded metal parts. Our bodies are beautiful, asymmetrical, soft and wonky. They are strong, serve us 365 days a year and never ask for anything in return, so don’t be down on them if they can’t be moulded into exactly the same shape as the person on the mat next to you. Just be you, don’t try to be anyone else.
The beauty of yoga is it teaches you to accept and embrace your differences. Work with them. Cherish them even. Know that what works for you won’t necessarily work for your family member/neighbour/colleague, and not just in a physical sense but a spiritual, mental and energetic sense too. When you can get your head around this (and I don’t mean literally), you can get your head around anything.
*image via Pinterest