Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Will Yoga For Likes, or, Growing Up Your Yoga

These photos were taken on the same day three years apart. One might expect that "progress" would look like a foot on the head in an even deeper backbend. Alas! In the interim, I've become the inhabitant of a whole new body. An as-yet-unhealed injury to my right shoulder makes Urdhva Dhanurasana extremely painful to come  into and limits my mobility in the pose significantly. Yes, this is still a deep full wheel, but I can no longer pull my chest forward with perfectly straight arms. I can no longer do the full expression of the pose and as a result, I totally suck. I'm a terrible yogi and an even worse person. Sorry.

Jk! In the age of social media overshare, it's easy to compare ourselves to others in many different contexts and feel less than. The full reality behind the perfect photo is rarely divulged. When those "30 day challenges" started rolling out on Instagram, I did ALL of them. I would spend part of every day forcing my unwarm body into poses I couldn't always safely complete. What you saw may have looked impressive, but I was often uncomfortable and unsafe, and this is not yoga.

#ProgressNotPerfection was my go to hashtag for my "progress shots," revealing the naive assumption that my body would only get bendier and that progress was a linear path into ever fuller expressions of advanced poses. Did being able to do a "perfect," full expression of Urdhva make me happy? Or a better person? No, it didn't. Neither did producing a steady stream of awe inspiring yoga photos that I look back on cringing. All I see is me disrespecting my body, and I did it all for the likes.

Injury is a great teacher. With progress limited by my new shoulder, I have had to find satisfaction in my practice not in how it looks on Instagram but in how it feels in my body. Even when I'm in class, I'm still having a personal practice, hiding out in the back and making small modifications to the sequence. It's the humbling my ego needed to be able to use yoga to make friends with myself rather than utilize it as one more tool of internalized oppression. I jokingly apologize for being "bad at yoga," but this is real. I hear it all the time from people who don't feel comfortable coming to the mat in their state of utter social media unsexiness.

Sometimes, despite my best attempts not to, I still catch myself watching other people's yoga. I see clenched jaws, shallow breath, straining, grasping. I see myself, younger in my practice, trying to push my way into a shape that I couldn't actually embody. Injury has made me a bit of an alignment purist, but honestly, if we're not going to practice the poses with integrity, what are we doing? Yoga is a space to meet yourself honestly where you are and to work from there. If you can't touch the ground without rounding your back, grab a block! Go to the place where you feel an edge-pushing discomfort and stop there, even if it's a million miles from where you think you should to be.

You may find overtime that your body opens deeper, that you are able to find the poses in fuller expression. One day you may graduate to having the block on its lowest level, then removing it entirely. You may get injured and have a humbling scale back of activity.

Alternately, perhaps your muscles will remain steadfastly stiff, movements ungraceful. poses partially expressed. But you keep showing up, despite how "bad" you are at yoga, because when you're there, you feel at home in your body. When you move, you are stretching to find the most space, freedom and ease possible in the moment. You find the places in you of discomfort and learn to be with them lovingly because this is the only way to thrive. You ride the breath to this clear understanding...

This practice, this body, this life, only belong to you. You are not here to impress anyone, or to convince anyone of anything. You are here to live well, joyfully, and in alignment with your own truth, respecting your natural limits.

Don't be fooled. Everything else is noise.


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