I Don’t Even Want a Yoga Body

Several years ago, a violinist reached out to me for sessions. They were having headaches and chronic pain in their neck and left shoulder, which threatened to affect their symphony performances.

We worked through several myofascial release practices and upper body stretches. A supine breathing practice further relaxed their left shoulder. They felt much better, and then asked how they can make their left arm like their right.

They heard a yoga practice can balance people’s bodies, which is true. But I asked a different question: did they just spend almost half a century adapting their body in this unique way, becoming a virtuoso in the process, only to have a yoga practice undo it?

"The Violinist" by Degas. A charcoal sketch of a man with a moustache playing a violin. His head is tilted to his left sharply in order to hold the violin. His right hand is bowing.
“The Violinist” by Degas

Over the course of a lifetime, how many hours does a professional violinist spend with a shoulder slightly shrugged, neck tilted, and arm in the air? 30,000? Why would they (or I) want to sabotage all that work just so one arm can feel like the other?

We spoke about bodies. The neural and muscular training to play most musical instruments doesn’t include left-to-right balance. Neither does playing baseball. Nor quarterbacking. Switching the sides on an electrician’s utility belt is going to slow them down and may result in dangerous mistakes. Try washing dishes with your hands reversed.

The violinist wanted relief and we found it. We did it without disturbing the finely-tuned fascial connections that earned them a seat on the symphony stage. While they came to me with an idea of a ‘yoga body,’ I’d like to think they discovered a newfound appreciation for their ‘violinist body.’

Of course, most of us identify in several ways, and our bodies are partly defined by these identities. Our professions and interests shape us physically as well as mentally.

However, we can’t condition our bodies to do absolutely everything. Some strain patterns will work against others. Bodybuilders are notoriously tight. Their tightness protects them. While some yoga may relieve soreness, too much focus on flexibility might put them in harm’s way.

So everybody has decisions to make. My client chose to embrace the patterning in their neck and shoulders, while dedicating just enough energy to a yoga practice so their profession didn’t cause pain. They chose to honor their violin body, and not to discard it for a yoga body.

My yoga, and every other physical and mental practice I do, is aimed at something more like the journey. I want to be open to all types of physical and emotional experiences. As a teacher, if somebody has a particular passion, if they’ve made that decision, why would I use yoga to sabotage that?

This is why I don’t want a yoga body. I want my system to be adaptable and available for various journeys. I want a body that tightens up when I hike a lot. A body with one calf slightly bigger than the other because I play drums. My yoga practice doesn’t try to obliterate these qualities; it celebrates them.