- What does it mean to be "good at yoga"?
- Posted 20 Nov 2017
Let me throw out something potentially controversial: “Excelling at the physical practice of asana actually is a detriment in the quest to deepen your yoga practice.”
That is not to say that you shouldn’t practice advanced asanas. But what determines whether your advanced asana practice is beneficial to your growth depends on what is going on in your head when you do it. Doing something you are good at tends to feed the ego. If your ego is what drives you to keep perfecting challenging poses, you have lost your way on the yogic path. If on the other hand you use the difficulty of advanced poses to consciously trigger your ego so that you can do the work of taking your ego out of your practice, you are heading in the right direction.
The whole point of yoga, I like to argue, is to take you out of your comfort zone so that you can practice, in a safe and controlled environment of your choosing, how to respond with serenity to the stresses and challenges we call life. If the physical practice of asana comes easy to you, you HAVE to go farther to get out of your comfort zone. But if you let yourself get too impressed with all the cool stuff your yoga body can do, your yoga mind may actually be withering, rather than thriving.
Try it now: Pick a pose (or a variation of a pose) you are not quite ready for. A good one for this exercise is one where you can’t quite get your hands where you want them, be that Cow Face pose, an arm bind in any number of poses, or full King Pigeon pose. These poses are good for this exercise because we are acutely aware of what our hands are doing (and NOT doing), while the chances for injury are relatively low when it comes to trying to reach something with your hands.
Do a few appropriate warm-up poses, and then pay careful attention to what is going on in your mind as you attempt to get your hands where you think they should be in your chosen asana. Are you getting frustrated? Are you working too hard? Has your breath become labored, or has it stopped completely? Are you reaching past your edge, because, dang it, you are only 5mm away from, from what? All these are signs that your ego has hijacked your practice. Relax for a few breaths in Child or Savasana, and try to find your way back to your inner equilibrium, your own serenity. Then, cultivating acceptance of reality, try the pose one more time while letting go of your ego. There is a chance that you might get deeper into the pose, but that isn’t the point AT ALL. It’s merely a side effect, that, if it becomes too pleasant, just allows your ego to hijack your practice in a slightly less damaging way.
The point is simply to cultivate the ability to stay serene in a difficult situation and to accept reality as it is, to let go of your desires that it should be anything other than what it is. That is what it means to be good at yoga.