- “The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.”
I am always amazed when I look at some of the pictures and video’s of yoga postures featured in magazines, social sites and You Tube. As I look through them sipping my morning coffee, (Yes, I drink coffee!) I am also inspired and learn from the tips and advice they offer and then I roll my yoga mat to begin my morning practice. Then I experience the yoga practice. Yoga practice that is designed to my abilities and my current needs. A practice that has taken me step by step to my current goal posture. It has a purpose and a function and is appropriately placed in the sequence balanced by many counter poses and rest so my body returns to balance.
As I reflect after my practice, I realise that these perfect images of perfect yogis in perfect āsana-s can also have very many negative effects on a student, especialy someone who is new to yoga. Whenever new students come to my class, I try to emphasise that they should begin the practice with no expectations. Despite this, it is disturbing to see and observe how attached students gets to the form of the posture. Variations to difficult āsana-s offered are accepted with such relunctance and they end up trying the classical versions despite the agitation in their breath completely ignoring and listening to the body that warns them time and again before it breaks!
This is the problem these days with yoga with form and looks given such importance; people have an image of yoga, which makes them want to bend into a pretzel looking position without any attention to what is happening to their minds or breath.
The social media, You tube video’s and others have done a wonderful job in making yoga accessible to everyone, but it has also created an unrealistic image of a yogi that is being established through these images.
However, if we remember few key points listed below whilst on the mat, the expererience of yoga will be fuller and expansive.
Practice– Yoga is a practice. The word practice means “to do something habitually in order to acquire or polish a skill.” It is helpful to approach yoga in the same way that you would begin to learn a musical instrument. In this case, the instrument is the body. You don’t expect to sit at a piano and play even the simplest scale without a few lessons; in the same way, you cannot expect to walk into a yoga class and master a set of āsanas in one session. Just as practising a piece of music over and over will help you acquire more skill, so practising an āsana step by step will allow you to go deeper into that asana. The problem with social media posts and you tube video’s is that you don’t see the hours of practice, or the fails, or the days when they had an injury or a cold. There will be more of these days than the facebook-worthy day that they choose to post.
Accept – that we are all different. This is a fact. Each person grows to have a different amount of strength, flexibility and stamina. It’s a simple fact that if your arms are long and your legs are short, then it’s easier for you to touch your toes. Sure, a regular practice begins to even out those differences but there will always be an āsana that is tough for you and easy for someone else. The reverse is also true. Learning to let go of comparison and accepting yourself is as important as achieving a headstand.
Experience – Yoga is an experiencial knowledge that leads you towards doscovering yourself. I know it sounds very airy fairy but when we start to connect to our breath and internalise the yoga practice, self discovery happens. This is the gift of yoga, this is the ‘like’ button. The form of the āsana is not important but fully experiencing its function is. The full experience will happen when the āsana is done with a feeling of being steady and being at ease in the āsana; breathing smoothly without force or agitation and with as little as possible movement in the mind. This cannot be captured in an image.
It’s unfortunate that we live in a visual world where external beauty is defined and glorified. The hundreds of pictures of lean, zero-fat yogis doing handstands against a beautiful sunset are testimony to this. And again, while I really admire these images, it would be nice to acknowledge the other yogis – the mother of four who sticks to her promise to practise half an hour of yoga a day, the older man with stiff hips who religiously tries to work his way step by step into version of ardhā Padmāsana (half lotus) and accepting that full lotus is not for him, the menopausal woman who holds Down Dog through a hot flash and the arthritic student who learns to manage her triggers of the condition through self observation and acceptance.
If you or someone you know is suffering because you injured yourself either through going to a yoga class or through poor adjustment by a teacher and would like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help life feel more comfortable. You can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
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1) Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar
2) Rani Yevraj article in ‘The Hindu’
3) Health, healing and beyond by T.K.V Desikachar