The day I got my first period my dad bought me flowers and my sisters threw a party.
I was mortified.
Growing up in the highly competitive environment of dance, I learned to make my bend and mold to technique and form through repetition and consistency.
I am grateful for this discipline engrained in me from a young age, but in many ways it also separated me from my body.
My trust was placed in my teachers and coaches, having them tell me when to rest and when to work. I never learned to decipher the signals my body was sending and telling me it needed.
And this is how I moved through adolescence and into adulthood, continuing to push my body through grueling Spin and Power Yoga classes, even on the first days when all I wanted to do was curl up and take a nap.
No pain. No gain.
People who rest are unproductive!
I would hear my dance teachers' voices ring through my head as my own.
Push. Never backing down.
Always advance because standing still is the equivalent of moving backward.
When I developed injuries in dance, I shifted to yoga.
But I practiced yoga in the way I did everything else…
That is, until one teacher made me pause.
I had heard about Nikki Costello’s weekly Teacher’s Practice long before I attended. It intrigued and intimidated me.
What does Teacher’s Practice look like?
I imagined a room full of limber and lithe yogis standing on their hands and touching their feet to their heads with the greatest of ease.
Eventually I worked up the courage to ask Nikki for permission to attend class and showed up with my best mat and newest leggings.
As a Senior Iyengar teacher, Nikki formats each week of the month towards a certain group and style of postures.
First week of the month we focus on standing poses.
Second week forward folds and twists.
Third week focuses on backbends.
Last week is restorative and pranayama.
On one particular day, when I was on the first day of my period, we were working on Inversions.
About 45min into the 2hour class, I was struh-ggling.
Lightheaded. Weak. Faint.
Still newer to the class and community, I was committed to make it through. No pain, no gain afterall.
But Nikki could tell.
Eventually I sheepishly admitted to her where I was in my cycle, expecting her to criticize me for not pushing through it, but instead she sighs and says “Listen, I can’t tell you what to do with your body. You’re a woman. But it’s obvious that you need to give your body time to rest.”
Instantly I felt a wave of relief wash over me that made me want to simultaneously jump out of my skin with gratitude and curl up into a ball to weep.
She shepherded me over into a corner to begin a modified series of postures designed to soften the low abdomen and relieve low back tenderness. She gave me a lot of support, literally with props and blankets and also, checking in on me periodically.
As I rested on pillows while everyone else was standing on their hands, touching their feet to their heads, I made a profound shift that day aware of the massive gift she gave me…
Nikki permitted me to listen to my body and honor it.
Even though I was not working at the same speed and pace as everyone else, she made an important and specific space for me which proved that I deserved to be there as I was.
For years I had accepted my students to show up in whatever way they could, but this time Nikki made it possible for me to practice in tenderness and acceptance of myself for the first time.
The Sanskrit word Svadhaya can be translated to “self study” or “self motivated study”.
The first definition points to studying one’s own self.
But the latter points toward having an inquiry that is self-motivated and propelled.
So often as teachers we tell students to “take things at their own pace” or “modify as you need”.
But what if we don’t know how to adequately modify?
What if we don’t know how to interpret the cues of our body?