Classic texts will tell you that the physical practice of asana is a small fraction of yoga (3 aphorisms to be exact). While yogic texts do not deny the body, the realization of yoga has little to do with the physical. And yet, nowadays, yoga has become synonymous with physical posturing. We ‘do’ yoga.
And, yet- what are we practicing?
The Problem With Physical Ideals
Chances are if you practice within society you practice towards achieving physical ideal. This posture, those arms, that body. And, why wouldn’t you? We heavily rely on sight to inform our practice. We look to examples to understand the alignment and form of an asana. Except what else to do we see? What prescriptive ideals do we insinuate every time we look towards an external body to understand yoga?
I recently came across an article that problematized the narrative of the yoga body. Danielle Prohom Olson writes:
[!w!]hen it comes to relentless self-improvement, I’m addicted as anyone to the possibility that with just a little more discipline and elbow grease, the right diet and the right derrière flattering yoga pants, l can bring forth into existence that, super-together, uber-organized, blissed out, svelte yogini version of myself. In short, my yoga body will prove I am in control of my life. Yet I well know the price I pay. Self–acceptance. Being present with gratitude and reverence for the life and the body I have now. (Source; emphasis mine)
When we, overly, identify with the body we lose sight of the heart of yoga-- understanding the self as already divine. You are already divine... no matter what your body looks like!
I like to remind my students that insight far outweighs any physical ‘accomplishments’; that the physical revelations we find on the mat are mere metaphors for confidence, strength, and growth. We practice to outsmart our mind with embodied defiance of limits or doubts.
This has nothing to do with our ass.
I remember early on I had a teacher who made the point of reminding classes that when he rehabbed his studio from it’s aerobic studio roots he took down the mirrors. He told us we practice to feel- not see. This is a teaching I keep with me today.
Try it! Practice to feel your rocking (yoga) body.