Over the past year, I've often been asked - "What happened? Where are all your photos of handstands?" Or "How was your visit to Mysore last year? Why didn't you post any yoga photos?" To "Are you still doing back bends? What happened to your back bend photo a day?"
Yes, I stopped taking yoga selfies and posting them on Instagram. I stopped doing all the yoga challenges that were just a major time sucker in my life. How does entering a yoga challenge make you a yogi anyway? Isn't is just another contest of who's the most bendy, the most strong, the most shining, "beautiful" yogi?
Hello folks - there are lots of super bendy, strong people out there who still act like straight up assholes (uh- myself included at times, but hey I'm working on it. I am human and just as susceptible to preconditioned reactions and behavior as the next person.)
It was around the time that I studied in Mysore in 2015 that I felt like I could no longer feed into the perpetual contest of survival of the fittest. Take an injury, finding the right teacher for me and add to it a complete reality check, I figured my mis-aligned yoga photos were not doing anyone a favor.
I was even asked by a friend in Mysore to model for some photos for her yoga project and I found myself shying away from this offer. I felt like a fraud. My heart was not into it. Subsequently, I always found a reason in my schedule that would not support coordinating a shoot. I felt extremely vulnerable every time I thought about it, and for the first time ever, I had a deep, innate desire to keep my practice private.
With my background in contemporary dance and a 3 year working stint as an artist's model - I was never shy about the body as vehicle for expression of form - however something shifted when I went to Mysore and since then, life has not been the same. The practice has become much less about the physical aspect, less asana, and much more about understanding the application and relation of the eight limbs to my life.
I am NOT saying that there is no beauty and grace in the outer form of the posture. One can look at photos of life long practitioners on Instagram and appreciate the years of dedication and practice that supports the strength of form - but what about the beauty and grace that cannot be seen by the eye? What about the deep, internal work that cannot be captured by a lens or expressed through regurgitated yoga quotes?
It has taken me almost a year of separation from my first trip to Mysore to appreciate the lessons that have started to take root. The power of a Yoga Sādhanā does not merely lie within the 3rd limb - asana - even though this is the initial limb that is most commonly encountered and perceived by those who first come to the practice.
This particular lesson has become crystal clear in a question a friend posed over lunch the other day.
"Isn't the whole purpose of studying with a teacher, finding a teacher - is to make progress in your yoga postures?"
Finding a teacher is most definitely NOT about getting better at yoga postures. This results-driven approach to the 3rd limb is often mistaken as a dedicated practice. Stepping onto your mat daily to move through a series is really but one part of a holistic and systematic method that encompasses so much more than learning the correct vinyasa count or gazing point.
Yes, when one begins the pursuit of asana practice, it is important to find an authorized teacher to impart paramparā - a direct and unbroken transmission of knowledge from teacher to student - however, a teacher's role and responsibility extends above and beyond the postural practice.
Hey folks - there's nothing wrong with first being drawn to yoga merely for the physical aspects. After all, asana is what brings most people to the mat for the first time, myself included. We are extremely physical beings and the way we relate to the world is through the embodiment of these bodies that we inhabit. Physical change is more easily perceived than mental; energetic change even more subtle.
And so, we practice asana.
However a purely asana oriented, results-driven approach over time does not a Yoga Sādhanā make. This approach is purely movement based exercise, which in the end is not practicing Yoga. You may as well be taking yet another boot camp class.
Yes, with correct application to physical practice, mixed with dedication and a lifetime of practice - one may find more steadiness, ease and proficiency in the postures. However when one gets stuck to a purely physical approach, one may find that the essence, the dharma, the power of the practice will continue to remain hidden.
The power of the practice is when the practice begins to resonate in other arenas in your life.
The power of the practice is connecting to your spiritual dharma. Who you are and how do you relate to this world, how do you relate to others, how do you relate to the divine?
The power does not primarily sit with your material dharma - which may be a.k.a. "powerful yogi with super powers who defies laws of gravity" on Instagram.
The power of the practice is facing your truths - all of them, not just the feel good ones.
The power of the practice is in cultivating ahimsa and compassion for those who annoy the hell out of you and for those whom you may not understand.
The power of the practice is in showing up to the mat even when all you want to do is stay under the covers and sleep, sleep, sleep.
There is power in practicing a pose whether you like a pose or not. As my teacher Magnolia tells me -"You don't need to like it or be happy about a pose. Just do it."
There is power in discomfort in the postures and going deeper even when the mind resists and starts searching for an option out.
There is power beyond any tangible progress we may or may not make in a posture.
There is power in studying and incorporating the Yamas and Niyamas into daily life.
There is power in sticking with one method, one teacher.
Once you find your teacher, there is power in not running away from him / her in an attempt to divert your attention and energy elsewhere to avoid pain.
There is power in just doing your practice.
With love & gratitude,