The Goal of Yoga Part 1
I had an odd moment over breakfast with a friend the other week. We were discussing random life matters and my latest big idea (aka secret resolution) for the new year: a personal trainer (I know, I know, who even am I?!) when she suddenly became curious about my yoga practice.
To give you some background, this friend is a big fan of the gym, plays competitive team sports, trains in powerlifting, and, fortunately for me, has a personal trainer she was willing to recommend!
I, on the other hand, have more of a history of active wear as an outfit choice, and only in more recent times have I been able to legitimise my Lululemon wardrobe by the fact I practice yoga.
All jokes aside, this was not the first time my friend had questioned me about yoga.
She’d shown an interest in my exercise habits when we both showed up to a gathering in active wear, and, once she learned I was a yogi wannabe, it progressed to queries about where and how often I practice, followed by several chats about types of yoga and, in particular, the pros and cons of gym yoga classes vs a dedicated shala or studio.
[For the record, I am a fan of the latter and cannot sing the praises of the crew at Humming Puppy enough. Their tag line is: ‘yoga that resonates’. Enough said!]
But last week was when things got interesting…
We were mid way through our breakfast catch up (in active wear of course!) when she detoured conversation with an ominous, “Can I ask you something personal and random?”.
I was a little nervous about where the conversation was about to go, but, my curiosity got the better of me and, I replied with a resounding, “Of course, go for it”.
She then proceeded to ask me, timidly, “How long have you been practising yoga?”.
Immediately thinking ‘Phew, that was easy!’, I replied, “just over a year”.
To which she nodded acceptingly and slowly followed on with, “So… how good are you, you know, at doing yoga? Like, what percentage of the moves can you actually do???”.
This is the point in which I burst out laughing.
My response was ramblings of word vomit something along the lines of:
“oh, I am crap. Well, I guess I am OK at the moves I can do, but I couldn’t put a percentage on them! It changes week to week, day to day, class to class — that’s the practice right?!? Yoga is about more than the asana (postures). Some days everything is in sync — breath, mind, heart, body, the teacher, the other students, the weather, the moon etc — and then other days (more often than not) I struggle just to show up, only to spend half the class in child’s pose (with the occasional outburst of tears to myself on the mat!)”.
I immediately regretted my moment of vulnerability. Fortunately, after much contemplation, she finally exclaimed, “Oh thank goodness!” . And, seeming eminently relieved by my response, she went on to explain, “It’s just that everyone in my class is soooo good. And I keep thinking, what’s wrong with me? How long will it take till I am able to do each of the moves!?”.
Now, she’s a confident woman, with all the cliched successes to her name (body, career, partner etc). Yet, here she was insecure and embarrassed about not being able to do a Shoulder Stand, hold Warrior Three or achieve Camel!
After a few laughs at our most recent asana fails, we went on to chat about alternative techniques, and to debate the practice of yoga in all its fullness (a conversation beyond the scope of this blog post!).
As I made my way home from breakfast I couldn’t stop thinking about how much my friend’s experience of ‘regular’ sports and training had conditioned her to focus on the end goal, to strive for physical outcomes and tangible results. I had been practicing yoga 3–5 times a week for about 14 months without ever giving thought to when I might actually achieve the ‘cool’ poses!
This reminded me of the following passage by yogi Rachel Brathen entitled ‘The Goal of Yoga (No, it’s not the Handstand):
And, as someone who is happily committed to my active wear but a lifetime away from ever doing a handstand, the experience left me reflecting on the question, if the yoga pose is not the goal, then why do I practice yoga?
And after much reflection… check out: The Goal of Yoga Part 2