Everyone wants to go further, move faster and get that deeper, deeper stretch. Maybe if you push a bit farther, you’ll be able to get your nose to the floor. Maybe if you stretch a little deeper, your hips will loosen up. And hey, maybe if you keep using physical pain to distract from psychological pain, everything will be just fine.
Hurting yourself in order to feel better and calling it ‘fitness’ is a fashionable and socially-acceptable method of self-harm, facilitated in no small part by the capitalist ideas that more = better and pain = gain. We’re made to believe that we must work more and produce more all the time and that if a perceived goal isn’t being met, it must be down to our own lack of effort. (I mean I know you have a job and three kids, but maybe if you take Leo Varadkar’s advice and just get up a little earlier in the morning, you can fix your body so it’s good enough eh?)
Neo-liberalism has squirmed it’s way so deep into our brains that it’s coming out in our yoga practice. Sometimes people can’t even do a downward dog without instantly blaming themselves for their inadequacies.
It can be hard not to judge yourself as you move through yoga poses. Western yoga has us believing that being stronger, more flexible and skinnier is the be-all-and-end-all, when it couldn’t be further from the truth. But the poses are just a tool used to facilitate the real goal of mindfulness.
I can tell you from experience that once you are able to touch your toes, your life does not suddenly get any better. Being able to grasp in Marichyasana D doesn’t mean you’ll have a clearer grasp of your place in the world and being able to stand on your head for five minutes doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be more confident standing on your feet. You can do all the sun salutations you want, but you’ll still encounter stress, conflict and lack – all just part and parcel of the experience of being.
So what’s the point? Well, these tools of movement and breath can give you more ownership over your reactivity in day-to-day life. Doing yoga won’t change the external factors around you but it can change how you react to them. It can also give you clarity over what external changes you might want to make.
If we think of it as a practice, and not a goal-orientated activity, yoga becomes a much richer resource. It’s like tending to weeds in your garden, except the garden is your body and mind, and the weeds are all the noise and the marketing we’re bombarded with everyday.
It is in corporation’s best interests for us to be goal-orientated in everything we do – for us to want more and more and never feel content. People richer and more powerful than you make money off making you feel inadequate. Social media is like a virtual playground of distraction and low self-esteem (the two perfect ingredients for ‘consumer’). And now advertisers have to do even less work than before, because we’re advertising to each other about how great our lives are on facebook and instagram. The more time we spend on social networks, the more we feel like our lives are lacking. Businesses like Goop (that “sell” health) use this to a terrifying degree of success, making millions off of people’s discontent.
But you have enough! You do enough! You are enough! You do not need to touch your heels to the floor in downward dog to be “good at yoga”!
We need to let go of preconceived notions of where and what the body should be and just let it be. An advanced pose is any pose that is good for your health – yoga is not acrobatics, even if it looks like it sometimes. The aim is to bring your mind and body to a place of focus and concentration (if your mind is wandering, go into Tree Pose for a few minutes – notice how you suddenly have to be here right now in order to stop falling over!) The poses are a tool, not the aim. There is no ‘end’ to a pose – it’s a constant practice, no matter what ‘level’ you are at.
Yoga, at it’s roots, is about being present, being mindful, and acting from a place of love and truth. There’s no need to buy vibrating yoga pants. (Yes, this exists).
Being content in a modified version of a yoga pose instead of forcing yourself into a pose that looks better is like a quiet form of resistance. Being able to get through an entire yoga class without comparing yourself to the person on the mat next to you is even more revolutionary.
We don’t need to lend our time, money or energy to products and media whose only intent is to harm us in the name of becoming richer. We don’t need to force our bodies into shapes they don’t want to go into. Our bodies, hearts and minds are just perfect as they are, thank you very much.