It’s Monday evening and you’re dragging your tired butt to yoga class. You desperately need to take some time for self-care. Thirty minutes into class the teacher cues you into some crazy-looking arm balance. You struggle in and out of the posture, maybe you even take a nose-dive and face-plant on the floor. Arm balances have never been your thing, but you’re bombarded with images of yogis balancing to their hearts’ delight on social media, in magazines…and now in your beloved Monday evening yoga class. What’s a yogi to do?
The truth is that arm balances don’t matter. None of the fancy-looking yoga postures matter. In fact, no one specific posture matters all that much. No one yoga posture makes us any kinder to others. No one yoga posture brings us any closer to enlightenment. You officially have a free pass to do whatever you want and whatever feels good in the asana world of yoga.
Another truth is that while yogic philosophy and certain yogic practices are ancient, the physical postures, the asanas, are a fairly new addition to yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a widely accepted yogic text dating back to the second century, mentions no physical yoga posture other than seated meditation. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika from the 14th century, a renowned hatha yoga text, references only 15 yoga postures, many of which are variations on seated cross-legged position. There are ancient texts such as the Yoga Korunta that are rumored to have detailed instruction of the physical asanas, but they have long been destroyed without a single copy in existence. [Source.]
The first texts to describe the physical yoga postures began to arise in the 1800s and experienced a resurgence of popularity in the mid-1900s. Suffice it to say that the yoga postures that we’re taught today, whether in India or in our mirrored Westernized studios, are a fairly new practice. There are 200 asanas in BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga and 908 asanas and variations on Dharma Mittra’s Master Yoga Chart. It seems there’s anywhere from 200 to 908 physical yoga postures with new postures being created every day. Basically, there’s 1 to infinity number of yoga postures that exist, both discovered and undiscovered. For example, there are several postures that are, in fact, younger than Yoga Journal itself including: mermaid pose, goddess pose, fallen angel pose, and the ever-popular reverse (proud) warrior. [Source.]
So, what does this mean for yogis today?
It means don’t put all this pressure on yourself to practice the fancy-looking yoga postures, or any posture for that matter. Yes, as a yoga teacher, the physical asanas changed my life, but so did lots of other aspects of yoga like meditation and yogic philosophies. I’ve come to realize it wasn’t so much what I was doing, as it was the fact that I kept doing it. The asanas, the meditation, practicing the philosophies — the fact that I committed myself to improving my physical health, to cultivating ease mentally and emotionally, and to being nice to myself and all the people and things that surround me — it’s these practices that changed my life. They showed me that I could believe in something even if no one else did. They demonstrated my ability to be unselfishly kind to others. They allowed me to move past everything I was no longer happy with in life so that I could discover who I am at my core.
That’s what yoga did for me.
I experienced all of this without ever doing a handstand in the middle of a room. I am the most compassionate that I have ever been without balancing in crow on a ledge overlooking a park. And, I became a yoga teacher even though I can’t place either of my legs behind my head. There, I said it.
Showing up to your mat because you love it and because it loves you back, that’s what changes your life. Practicing loving kindness towards others because you know it will bring the world just that much closer to peace, that’s what changes your life. Sitting in silence for a few minutes a day because the world is full of noise and you crave time for reflection, that’s what changes your life. A single crazy-looking arm balance on a Monday evening in your post-work yoga class, well, that doesn’t really matter so much. If it’s fun for you, try it. If it feels good in your body, practice it again. If it felt awful and made you feel inadequate, leave it alone and you never have to do it again if you don’t want to. Your yoga practice is so much more than the fancy-looking postures you do on your mat.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this, so please comment below!