Yoga Is and Isn’t About the Poses. Sounds Contradictory? Maybe.
For the last couple months, I’ve been diving deeper into different parts of the yoga practice. But I found myself stuck in this loop of – “yoga is more than the poses.”As such, it became increasingly difficult for me to resonate with strong, beautiful shapes and classical poses.Almost to the point that I resented pushing myself to the edge or seeking out advanced postures whenever I stepped on my mat. Of course part of this shift came with a broken wrist but I realised that this struggle extended the dread I felt finding pictures to post on Instagram because it felt inauthentic preaching about something I didn’t practice or believe in wholeheartedly.
When yoga first came into my life, my practice was pretty basic and admittedly quite inconsistent. I had a repertoire of simple standing postures, prone backbends and classical Surya namaskars (sun salutations). And that was what I started my teaching journey with. But as I grew stronger & more flexible, postures that were previously elusive to me became accessible. My feet went behind my head, I could balance on my hands with ease and my backbends became fancier. That also became incorporated into the sequences I led. So yes, I definitely went through a phase where the physical practice overshadowed everything else.
Find Authenticity in the Yoga Poses and Your Practice
Most of us are programmed for accomplishments so it’s easy to find yourself unknowingly prioritising the external image and shape during practice. But over last year or so, both my body and practice changed. And the poses that once made me super excited suddenly lost its appeal. Those who’ve spent enough time with me know all I do these days is sit cross legged and meditate. Journaling has become a constant and I’m definitely more committed to writing gratitude lists & affirmations. I’m presently very happy with that. And it is what it is right now. But it’s not because that it’s more yoga or that it’s more true to the practice. Yoga is that, and it also isn’t.
It’s true that the yoga sutras barely mention asana and only list a handful of poses. It’s true that asana is just one of the 8 limbs of practice. It’s true that asanas were meant to prepare us for meditation and an enlightened state of mind. But just because you love and praise a pose doesn’t mean that you’re not practicing yoga or being inauthentic. We learn that asanas are the tools, the door to infinite possibilities but you are not a shallow person just because you come for the physical practice. It doesn’t make you shallow or a non-yogi if you came to yoga for some physical, pragmatic reason – to alleviate hip pain, to increase your endurance, to lose weight, to gain more flexibility. If all these things make you love yourself more, ease your mind, uplift your spirit and make you a kinder and easier person to be around, then who is to say that’s not yoga? It is and isn’t but honestly who cares? You do you because yoga is and isn’t about the poses.
Yes, on the most part I still teach and remind my students that yoga is more but that doesn’t mean that we can’t also delight ourselves in a sweaty workout. I think it’s much more important to free ourselves from the preconceptions or expectations of how things should be. My suffering stemmed from the attachment and belief that yoga is “always” and “should be” more than the poses; that yoga is this or that. But there’s no should, there’s just what is. Your yoga may differ from mine but that doesn’t mean your practice isn’t true. And vice versa. So while all I do now is sit and meditate, it doesn’t mean I’m more wholesome or living the life of a true yogi. It’s honestly what I need right now. Amidst a busy schedule coupled with my own mental challenges, sitting crosslegged in silence is presently much more beneficial in making me a more bearable person to be around. And it is and isn’t yoga.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that right now it’s just taking the time to see things for what they really are, see myself for who I am so that I can live and act accordingly to it. To live true and free. Ultimately we don’t practice for the glory of crazy physical contortions but for the wisdom and insight that comes from the observation and self-inquiry in and between the movements. So deep backbend or not, if it makes you happy, curious and excited about yourself – that’s yoga and it also isn’t.
About the Author
Kathy is a founder and co-director of Urban Yogis. Her training background includes Thai Massage, Reiki, STOTT Pilates, Structural Integration by Anatomy Trains, and she is now in the midst of completing her Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Practitioner Training with Body Intelligence. To learn more about Kathy, visit our About page.