Saying "pshaw, you can do it!" might seem like a supportive, friendly thing to say to a friend who has recently taken up yoga and is struggling with a pose. Or, you could do it in a way that implies, "this pose is so easy (for me) that it would be nutzo (to me and my outsized ego) if you can't do it (even though you've only been doing yoga for a few months). You can totally do it (you're just afraid)."
Also: "(Quit being a weenie and try harder.)"
Regrettably, I was this very yoga jerk a few weeks ago when a friend told me that she can't do handstands against the wall. The conversation started out, I think, with me having a genuinely supportive, can-do attitude on her behalf. But I quickly descended to alpha-yogi jerk.
During my yoga retreat on Bali this winter, the teachers held an advanced workshop one afternoon, and when the four of us participants unrolled our mats, one of the teachers said, "I knew you would be the ones to show up -- you're all alphas." I did a double take, because he was right. I admit it. I'm an aggro yogi. I go to hard classes and always try the challenge pose, even if I'm tired or worked. I rarely skip a vinyasa, even though in every class, teachers always remind us to pay attention to our bodies and our energy level and respect it.
Alpha-aggro yogi does not respect low-energy levels. She takes a big breath and powers through, fuck being tired! It's a good way to get hurt, and I have.
The week after saying to my newer-yogi friend, "I just know you can do handstands against the wall," I went to a class headed by Amy Ippoliti, who handed me my alpha ass on a silver yoga platter. We did handstand after handstand and forearm balance after forearm balance. I kept going until I felt like I would crash onto my face. Maybe, I thought, this is how my friend feels when she tries to kick up -- sweaty hands, noodle arms, face dangerously close to bearing a permanent yoga-mat mark. Spooky.
I also realized that though I've been attempting to float free in handstands for years now, I'd never put in this much effort into one sitting. Which makes me the weenie, for cruising on experience and a bit of little fitness and not genuinely trying.
Friend, you're putting yourself out there, which makes you a badass. Don't listen to me -- I'm a weenie who needs to try harder.
-- Jenn Fields, email@example.com