In older posts I've mentioned Ashtanga, (the Eight Limbed Path). The first 2 practices are 1.) Yama (restraints and disciplines) and 2.) Niyama (observances). Svadyaya is the sanskrit word for "self-study," and is a type of observance.
Lately, I've been challenged in my classes by teaching from this place of giving students what they need and not from what they want. There are some people who do yoga to push, sweat and work themselves to achieve the "yoga body." There are moments in an advanced practice that require you to be still, to regather energy and focus, to come back into the breath, and the advancement really comes from integrating this into the movement practice again and again. What I am seeing is that some students choose instead to work through postures before their bodies are able to fully receive them. My teacher Maria says that she has not been injured in her yoga practice for something like 10 years, and she is quite advanced!
Here's my deal:
Yoga WILL change your physical body, it will expand your lung capacity. It will strengthen, lengthen and tone your muscles. It will help balance your complexion, your hormones, your moods, your appetite. It will help you to release stress and to know yourself more clearly. And yes, with a regular practice, you CAN achieve a toned, fit, beach ready body.
Now, you can also overstretch, strain, pull, hyper-extend and in other various ways, injure yourself. Hatha yoga IS an exercise routine, you are weight-bearing and moving fluidly. IF you are not practicing self-study, that is, if you are not taking a break when you need to, if you are not catching your breath, if you are not mindful of your body's placement, you are not aligning yourself to the fullest benefits of the practice.
I don't care what kind of arm balance you can do or if you can invert in the middle of the room. The very first practice we take is non-injury. Couple this with self-study and you are already on your way to taking care of your body and your self in a way that will support any degree of physical challenge in your hatha practice.
When it comes down to it, it's none of my business how you are moving through your practice. But if you are in my class, expect me to cue you for the practices you need more then what you want. There are many, many teachers in Los Angeles than are happy to lead you through a strong practice without reminding you to look within, and take care of what your body is asking for.
Sometimes, it's more difficult to sit in stillness.