Yoga is so much more than a body posed in a position unattainable by mere mortals.
Posing in those forms doesn't necessarily mean you are a yogi. It means your body has the physical ability to get into that shape.
In a culture where how you look and what others think of you is more important than what you think of yourself, yoga posers fit right in.
It doesn't make you a better person, more enlightened, better than anything, and often, does the practice of yoga a disservice.
I was part of this scene for a while. I had my photo app set to post pictures in cute outfits. I started twitting about the poses we tried in class that morning. I spent quite a bit of time in front of a camera with a timer to get the perfectly posed pose. I fell for the trap of believing the number of friends I had on social media (not very many) meant I was loved.
As I began to notice picture taking was taking up all my time, I let it go. I didn't want to live one part of a lifestyle. I wanted and needed to spend time learning about how to live the complete package.
The postures, poses or asanas of yoga are a very small part of a much larger practice.
Yoga is about integrating mind and body. Yoga poses work the body. You can do the postures all you want and still be an asshole if you don't work with the mind and spirit too.
It's hard to have a strong, open and clear mind when you have a weak, unhealthy and stressed out body. One cannot work without the other.
I started my yoga practice with physical postures only. There was no meditation, no breathing exercises, no philosophy, no healthy food, and no internal work. Though opening my body from the practice started the change, I eventually needed more.
It was years before I began to understand the effects yoga was having on my life. Had I been exposed to the other variables that encompass a complete yoga practice, my shift to peace may have been quicker.
At the time I started my practice, the philosophy scared me. I liked who I was. Eventually, I wanted to know WHY a simple exercise practice was having such a profound affect on me. I am still learning that and science is catching up to help me out.
If you are only looking for an exercise program, you can certainly add yoga to the list of exercise options; along with Crossfit, Pilates, TRX, Spin, Weight Lifting, etc.
If you want the benefits of the stress relieving properties, intimacy with knowing the true you, the subtle and not so subtle shifts in thinking, and the waning anger from everyday stress, add the complete experience to your yoga practice.
While doing a physical practice, take note of the following teachings. How you do your physical practice is how you live your life. In life, how you do anything, is how you do everything.
Don't be a poser, be a person. Incorporate these practices into your physical practice and your life will be whole, happy and content. These practices are referred to the Yamas and Niyamas and are a part of any complete and continual Yoga practice. Because yoga is a practice, it's never finished.
Ahimsa (Non-Violence) :
Are you pushing too hard? Can you pull back a little? Can you surrender to the pose? What does going deeper and doing more mean to you? Does one pose cause you more distress than another? If so, how can you decrease the distress? What do you gain from pushing harder?
Are you putting more emphasis on one part of the body to allow another to make the pose the right shape? Are you working the whole body in the pose or stealing from one part to make the other “better”? Are you assessing your own ability and working accordingly? Are you being honest about your abilities? Are you giving up Ahimsa, or doing harm and truth to get into what you think is the right pose?
Knowing that you are practicing a full class, are you holding back thinking you will run out of energy? Are you holding onto any energy reserves so you can work to your fullest later? The pose will give you what you need to move forward. There is abundant energy in and around you to help you get what you need.
During more intense postures, use the large muscles over the small muscles. Equalize effort by relaxing large muscles and letting smaller muscles help out (for instance in side angle). For example, in Triangle – feel the grounding through the legs, strength in the hips and radiate energy up through your arms. Be aware of the core while transitioning from pose to pose. This can teach you how to moderate energy and not use too much to tire yourself out. All poses, use core to radiate energy into the heart, creating more energy to use in inspirational ways instead of fruitless efforts.
Are you working at your own level? Are you trying to do the pose like the person next to you? Is your focus turned inward, considering more how you feel in the pose, not on how the shape of the pose looks.
Can you accept that you may not be ready for what you are attempting? Are you as good as can be whether you can “do” the pose or not? Is your face relaxed no matter what pose you are in? Is there an internal struggle when asked to do what you may consider to be a difficult pose? Are you okay with whatever variation of the pose you can do?
In order to reach your goals, you have to put effort into the steps it takes. Are you putting enough effort, without harm, into the poses to achieve growth? Physical and mental growth? Can you use the right amount of effort and still maintain contentment? Are you stealing from one part of the body to generate heat and force the pose?
Introspection (Svadhyaya) (Sva=Self, adhyaya=Education)
Though you are in a class full of people, each class is an opportunity for you to participate in an internal lesson. What did you learn? Why are you here? If you had everything in the world available to you, what would you do with your life? What is holding you back from achieving that goal? Study thy self, discover the divine.(Yoga Sutra’s)
Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana)
While attempting to move into a difficult pose, what matters? Getting into (the result) of the pose or the effort and intention of trying it in the first place? If you let go of expectations, can you offer up that expectation of achievement to a greater source (Universe, God, Source)? Knowing that you are an individual who is also part of a bigger whole, can you surrender the action of the pose and gain grace in knowing you are part of something bigger than yourself?
When you are finished with your flow or class, please be courteous and clean up your space, put blocks and bolsters back and be aware of others in the room.