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“can’t you just…”

Last week, one of my clients was telling me about her past experience with a yoga teacher. “She was young, thin, her body could do everything, and she was just trying to push my body into different positions, like, ‘can’t you just do this,’ and it wasn’t working at all…”

In that moment, not only was my client unable to do what her teacher was asking, she was also being treated as though she should easily be able to do it– leaving her feeling as though there was something wrong with her body.

Many (not all, but many) folks become personal trainers, yoga teachers, or fitness instructors because they have a natural facility for what they’re teaching. They find that moving their bodies is easy and fun– there’s little struggle for them. This means that when confronted with a client or student who can’t move their bodies easily, they often just don’t know what to do. Anytime you hear the words “can’t you just,” you can be sure that there’s a lack of empathy, understanding or experience at play. If the person “could just,” they already would be doing it.

Anytime you hear the words, “can’t you just,” you can be sure that there’s a lack of empathy, understanding, or experience in play.

On the one hand, I can relate to those able-bodied yoga teachers and movement professionals because of privilege in my own body. I have a certain amount of natural mobility and strength, and I found that yoga especially came really naturally to me. In my earliest days as a teacher, I learned quickly that lots of folks “couldn’t just” do what I could– and I sought out solutions and training to better understand how to help them.

I’ve also had the helpful experience of occasionally feeling like a bit of an outsider. There are certain things my body just doesn’t do well, and my proportions aren’t ideal for certain poses (which has caused at least one yoga teacher to “can’t you just” me). When it comes to other physical activities, I can be a slow learner. New patterns take me more time than some other folks. This has given me a lot of empathy and understanding for folks who need extra time, or a different explanation or demonstration.

If you find yourself working with a coach, teacher or other professional who asks “can’t you just,” remember this: it’s not you, it’s them. Each of us has a unique body, nervous system, and learning needs, among other variables– and this person may not be able to understand yours.

My recommendation in this situation? If at all possible, see if you can find someone else to work with who is able to explore different possibilities with you. If this is someone you must work with, you can kindly but unapologetically let them know that this isn’t something you’re “just” able to do– and that you’ll need some different options.

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