Monthly Archives: September 2013
As a Yoga Teacher, I have many friends who are serious practitioners and teachers. We all share a common love for the practice. I have noticed a trend on the internet lately that is starting to increase my concern that Yoga is losing its Yoga. Yoga selfies, you know all those pictures of beautiful people contorting their bodies into amazing expressions of Yogic art. I call this art because it is a visual representation, not reality. The poses themselves have very little to do with Yoga other than that they are the more tangible, visual aspect of the practice. The poses are a starting point. They are a place for us to meet up with resistance in our bodies and to retrain our nervous system to react to exterior stimuli in a more balanced way. It doesn’t matter if we look amazing in a pose. It doesn’t matter how we look in the pose at all, as long as we are safe from injury. What’s important is what is happening on the inside. What emotions are being released? What thoughts are coming up? What muscles are helping that don’t need to? What is happening with breath? These are the important things. The way the pose looks is no reflection as to how well the Yogi/Yogini is progressing along the path.
The images that are showing up on our social media sites of Yogic Art can look intimidating, and suggest that how the poses look are an indication of mastery. Those of us who post these pictures are proud of how we look. We get a charge out of showing off our expertise, and we use it to market our skills as teachers. That isn’t Yoga. It’s artistic expression. It’s a shallow representation of something much deeper and intangible. Yoga is connection to all. It is a process of transformation. It is something that cannot be represented in photographic art, but rather in the joyful eyes of the practitioner.
When we take up the practice, we struggle. We confront parts of ourselves that aren’t pretty. Parts that do not show up in these pictures. Fears, anxieties, past traumas all surface and get released. It is not always an easy process, but it is a worthy process. The physical practice is only 1/8 of a complete yoga practice. When practiced seriously and completely, without regard to outward appearances, yoga gives us freedom. Yoga gives us freedom. Freedom from the sense of separation. We feel confident, secure, happy, joyful, energetic, and we emanate that in our outward appearance. One cannot see all of those things in the photos. The poses don’t matter. What happens to us as a result of complete practice is what matters.
Practitioners be mindful about whether your postings are to represent the practice or to stroke your own ego. Practitioners, and non-practitioners, go ahead and admire the beautiful artistic expression, but remember, this is not what Yoga is all about. It doesn’t matter if you can touch your toes, or backward bend like a pro. It matters that you show up and have the courage to explore your own experience of mind, body and spirit.
Countless times over the years I have been asked, “What can I do to get my knees closer to the floor?” with regards to Bound Angle, Seated Easy Pose, Half Lotus, and Lotus… The answer is always the same. The cold hard truth is that not everyone’s knees will touch the floor in these poses. It’s not because of lack of flexibility in hips, or lack of effort. It’s just one of those crazy misconceptions when it comes to yoga. We might have all the same bones, muscles, tissues, etc., but they are not all exactly alike. The unique shape of your bones, muscles, and tissue will determine how far you can go in many yoga poses. This is the primary reason Yoga Teachers stress not comparing yourself to others. You are unique. When physical blockage is met by the inability for a bone and/or muscle to move beyond another bone and/or muscle, it is called compression. We all have different points of compression. When that point of compression is met, there is no place left to go. No amount of stretching will change it. Some people find compression further into a joint than others. It’s not because they are better yogis or yoginis, it’s just the way their bodies were made. This is why Susie who’s been practicing yoga daily for 10 years may never look like double-jointed Joe who just picked up the practice last month. He may be able to get his heals to the floor in Down-ward Facing Dog and feel like he is the cat’s meow as he looks around the room. Whereas, Susie, may feel a little frustrated or self-conscious because she has invested so much into her physical practice and yet she cannot. For either of them, the emotional response to how well they perceive themselves performing the pose is more important than how they look. Both may be comparing, getting feedback to their brain based on what they see externally instead of examining what’s happening internally. The practice is to let go of those perceptions and just be in the pose. It doesn’t matter what the other people in the room look like, it matters how each one of us feel about ourselves. It matters what thoughts and emotions bubble up. It matters how present you are in your own body. Who cares if your knees touch the floor? The teacher doesn’t. The teacher is ecstatic that you showed up. The other people in the room don’t care what you look like in the pose. The only person who cares is you. The question is, why is it so important? Why does it matter to you? The next time you feel inadequate while practicing a yoga pose, be curious about the feeling of inadequacy. Ask yourself those questions. That’s when the real yoga happens.