English Wikipedia user Daniel Case [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Don't look at my feet!

This is not very yogi of me, but this is what makes me a human being, after all: I got grossed out by someone, something in class last week. In a brief moment, before settling into my own intention, I caught sight of the bottoms of the feet in front of me. And what I saw made me go in for a closer look. Oddly, this man in front of me, his fourth toe, the one closest to the pinky, was twisted almost all the way around. As he settled into child’s pose, his toes shouldhave faced down to his mat, but, instead, this fourth toe on both feet, it turned upward so much that it appeared as if his nails were on the bottoms of his toes. Only these two fourth toes were affected, luckily, but it was quite a sight.

The reason I describe someone else’s malformation is because it got me thinking. My first reaction, of course, was eww, that’s a rough hand there (no pun intended). Then, so quickly, I thought aren’t we all a little oddly shaped? Or imbalanced? Or wounded? And not just physically speaking.

I have some quirky little things happening in my body, for sure. My right hip is higher than my left, so any sort of standing balance, especially transitioning through poses like STANDING SPLIT to ONE-LEGGED Tadasana or Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana to AIRPLANE or Virabhadrasana III WARRIOR THREE, is particularly challenging. And my back, that’s a whole other beast. The curve in my spine makes my right shoulder blade jut out more noticeably than the left. Not a huge deal at all, but it keeps my right shoulder from being as open. When I wrap my blades together in a pose like Baddha Utthita Parsvakonasana BOUND EXTENDED SIDE ANGLE, the right blade gets all ganked up and just won’t slide over the left like I wish it would or feel it should.

We’re all different; we have our own stories. Not so surprising, most people have some sort of injury from some sort of crazy trick attempted as a kid. Or maybe as an adult. Most of my back problems come from trampoline accidents in my teens and early twenties. I have a yogi friend who has a wrist injury from soccer so he adapts and adjusts. His Chaturanga Dandasana is done on his fists rather than on his palms. He’s currently teaching himself to do Bakasana CROW on his fists too, because, as he says, he’ll never fully get the pose if he doesn’t compensate in some way—and crow is a feat without weak parts. The thing is I know he’s injured only because he’s told me. He has a beautiful practice and moves with strength and with grace.

At the end of the day, there’s this group of people in every class, many of whom have some sort of issue, but I look around the studio each day and all I see is people moving together with passion for a practice and with agility and integrity and, for the most part, with ease. Instead of being a person with funkdafied toes, there is a person in front of me who uses his admirable ab strength to lift his legs nearly straight into the air when he hops forward on his mat to transition from downdog to halfway lift. It is a gorgeous sight to see. The toes no longer matter.

In the real world, the outside world, I might not stop myself from judging this guy’s creepy toes. I’d think, put some socks on those hammer toes! But in a yoga studio, there just seems to be no room for that manner of thinking. We’re all impacted in some capacity by our pasts; we’re all affected by what’s happening to us right now. The hand we’ve been dealt may not look perfect or be perfect, but it is ours. Luckily there are talented podiatric surgeons out there. Even more lucky, we can choose to focus on the beautiful rather than the ugly.