06 The Elements of Yoga with Abby Kraai
Abby isn’t only a yoga teacher, but also an improv comedy performer! She’s been teaching yoga and performing in improv shows since 2012. She’s come full circle to what originally brought her to yoga as a teenager: scoliosis. After trying various treatments for scoliosis, Abby eventually had surgery that fused 11 vertebrae in her back. After becoming active again through running and playing ultimate frisbee, a friend brought her back to yoga. A year of consistent practice, Abby went from resenting her body for its limitations to a place of appreciation for her body and everything it could do.
After going to grad school to teach high school English, Abby taught English while wrestling with how to achieve work-life balance. She eventually decided to move away from teaching English and focused on getting creative to make a living from teaching yoga.
Making Yoga Work for Scoliosis
“You can do a more vigorous practice, not with the intention of burning yourself out with physical exertion, but with the intention of appreciating your body and seeing what it can do when you approach the practice with gentleness for yourself.”
Abby has taught gentler practices, like yin and restorative classes, but what she really loves is vinyasa because it reminds her of all of the things her body is capable of. Her surgery greatly affected her range of motion in things like twists and backbends. Since she can’t do some poses in their traditional shapes and alignment, she experimented and learned how to adjust poses to her body to get the benefits of the pose.
Yoga helped her come to a place of acceptance of her “body, emotions, [and] persona,” which gave her a natural segway into improv. She found that she was cultivating similar skills in improv and in teaching yoga: reading the room and adjusting what you offer, taking a deep breath and moving on if something you planned doesn’t work out, and overcoming stage fright and self doubt.
Abby was generous enough to share some photos to help us understand her spinal situation. Below, you can see an xray of the rods in her spine and how much of her spine was fused together.
In this photo, you can see the long scar along the spine, the difference in the shoulder blades, and her incredible strength!
Abby’s Advice on Practice
In the podcast, Abby talks about lessons from improv that anyone can take into their yoga practice. In a nutshell, she had two pieces of advice:
- Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself in practice. It won’t only help you, but it might help add levity to your neighbor’s practice, too!
- Don’t be attached to the outcome. Focus on the elements of the pose and its benefits, rather than achieving the physical form.
To better point out the differences in the body from her scoliosis, Abby shot a short video with us – check it out, below.
Read Abby’s musings and get her class schedule on her blog, Straight Up Yoga and follow her on Instagram @straight_up_yoga.