The common image of the yogi as pretzel has its pros and cons. It may intimidate some people and keep them away from yoga. For others, the idea of the perfect asana is a great motivating tool. It’s natural that we get invested in our own practices. We want to do a little more and do a little better every day. As teachers we see students striving to perfect the pose. But as one of my favorite teachers used to say, “We never strive.”
I know. That’s really really hard. But yoga is more than asana. All you have to do is bring awareness to your breath and you’re doing yoga. In an asana practice, you don’t have to do anything but breathe, follow alignment cues, and go to your edge. In our competitive culture, it’s easy to want to push past your edge and claim the title of perfect yoga practitioner. Here’s why you shouldn’t.
Yoga Class: No Grades and No Final Exam
Yoga is not about impressing ourselves or others. We have bigger goals than touching our feet in paschimottanasana or kicking up into an effortless handstand. Yoga is about taking your body to its limits while respecting those limits. In what you do and in what you don’t do, there is something to learn about yourself and your body. That is your goal in yoga. That is what differentiates yoga from step aerobics.
So you’re learning more about yourself with each breath, and maybe what you’re learning is that you have really short hamstrings and a temper to match. We experience a range of emotions while practicing yoga. Determination, disappointment, frustration, intensity, and exhaustion are normal feelings. Instead of letting negative feelings take over, acknowledge them and change your perspective. If you stumble or fall, laugh and get back up.
Striving and taking yourself too seriously aren’t the end of the world, but they will make your yoga practice a lot less fun. Focus on asana you can practice with ease. In those poses, you’ll build strength and flexibility. Then one day, without striving and without expectations, you will fly up into that effortless handstand. I promise.