But Are You Kind?


“Your arm should be straight!” the elderly woman shouted at me from across the park.  I was in the midst of a photoshoot, something I regard as a duty for marketing rather than a source of enjoyment for this self-proclaimed introvert.  I laughed having not heard her but assumed she said something humorous.  Most of the passers-by before had smiled, occasionally making light of the situation.  Let’s be honest, it does look silly for a person in tight, colourful trousers to strike ridiculous poses next to a trio of ducks beside a river.

My photographer smiled, “why not show her how it’s done?” to which the stooped woman replied, “I’ve been doing yoga for 50 years!” before scuttling away alongside her friend.

I pondered – and the point of that interaction was…  what?

Yes, she may have been unwell or having a bad day, she may have been envious of what her body once was, maybe she advocates for a stricter, rigid practice…

or maybe she’s simply a miserable person.

Rather than grasp for excuses to justify another’s behaviour, sometimes we need to concede there are unpleasant people in this world.  Not everyone associated with yoga or wellness is agreeable or encouraging.

I assume she departed feeling superior, but did she uphold the tenets of yoga?  After 50 years was her behaviour demonstrative of non-violence, of empathy?  What of non-attachment?  Obviously, I had upset her asana cart.  She didn’t pause to exchange truths or ask me any questions about my background (40 years in dance), didn’t clarify the style of yoga she practiced nor query mine (20 years of diverse training).  Did her 50 years consist of any kind of self-reflection?  Was her comment merely an impulse or was there a purpose in harassing me in public?  We all make mistakes as we go through life, but this was an interaction that unfolded slowly enough it could have been rectified if so desired.

These practices are intended to be more than just breathing and acrobatics, more than just spouting memorised lines from ancient tomes.  It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been on the mat – if they don’t enhance character development, if they fail to improve how we behave in our communities, why bother?  We may as well join the circus.

Thankfully the photoshoot ended on a lighter note with others asking what my classes were like and expressing interest in learning more.

As someone who has trained to specialise in working with the inflexible, the curvy, with ageing bodies, and those seeking to improve or maintain mobility (such as my own osteoarthritis or those who struggle with M.E.), I can attest that no, sometimes the arm may not be perfectly straight.  And sometimes that is precisely how it needs to be.

In my classes students are empowered to work with their body exactly as they are, not to strive for an external concept of excellence.  In the space I hold, it is far better to encourage kindness toward one’s own imperfect physique in the hopes that such embodied kindness may flow from us as we move through our communities.