Why yoga isn't all about the poses

Like most people, the thing that first got me into yoga was the fitness aspect, I’d seen people doing cool poses in pictures and I wanted to be cool as well. Cool and thin… and possibly a bit more zen, but definitely cool! My first yoga experiences were very much about being physically functional, usually attending classes at a local gym and there’s nothing wrong with that but it kept me ignorant to all the other incredible principles and benefits of yoga. My understanding of myself and my abilities was so limited. The first time I realised yoga wasn't all about how high I could get my leg, I went to a class where the teacher gave a reading during Savasana about letting go. At the time I’d never heard this reading and it resonated so deeply with me, I felt I had stumbled upon gold. I started making sure I went to a class every week and began a home practice. When I managed my first headstand I felt like a ‘proper yogi’, because that’s what yoga is right? Learning to stand on your head!

To be honest, now I’ve qualified as a teacher, I haven’t done a headstand for several months and I’m struggling to keep up with a daily practice. In some ways I have hit a yoga-identity crisis of sorts. It was my ability to get into certain poses that led to suggestions from others that I become a yoga teacher and now my ability to do these poses doesn't feel as important to me as it once was and it certainly doesn't make me a better yoga teacher.

In actual fact, Asana (the sanskrit term for yoga poses) is only one of Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga, and even then, it is only described as ‘taking a tall, comfortable seat’ in order to prepare to meditate. There are 7 other disciplines and observances that play into the yogic lifestyle, so technically speaking, asana is only 12.5% of yoga. Of course, Asana is great for physical health, fitness, flexibility and strength. In terms of trauma healing and managing stress, dropping into our bodies is imperative to work through stored trauma and physical pain. Having a regular practice aids you physically off the mat without question, and not just to show off your epic crow when you attend parties (yep, I used to do that too). It’s so important to remember though, when you are struggling to get to crow pose, that the physical practice isn’t even about reaching a certain pose in a certain way. It’s much more about the work that goes into reaching that pose, even if you never succeed. What you learn on the journey is discipline, perseverance, patience, non-attachment and hopefully most of all, self-compassion.

We live in a world where should-dos and should-nots are raining down on us from all over the place. Stress and being busy are the new black and we wear them with pride as we try to navigate being the best humans we can possibly be before posting it on all social media platforms as evidence to the wider world that we do in fact have our shit firmly together. Well, here’s one way to let yourself off the hook; Yoga (whatever the word means to you) doesn’t have to be yet another thing we must compete at. I say that with full awareness that I feel the pressure more than ever now I’m qualified to ‘look the part’ for my business. I spoke to fellow yoga teacher recently about why I feel the need in a class to do a full tree pose, when in all honesty, I hate it and it hurts my inner thigh... her answer? ego! And that's it, if you are trying to get that perfect pose over what you're body is needing, you aren't doing yoga for you, you're doing it for your ego. You don’t need to ‘perform’ in yoga. Safe to say, most people in your class are worrying too much about their own practice to care about what you are doing. You don’t even have to look a certain way in a pose! Staying safe on your mat is important and that’s why your teacher is there, to keep you safe, not to pressure you into doing something your body doesn’t want to do. I see it as a sign of experience in yoga now, when I see a student pull back from a pose and take a more accessible option. I am trying hard to embody that myself because yoga should be our escape from the world around us and it’s everyday pressures. It’s our opportunity to connect with what really matters and what really matters is not how skinny your arse looks while you're sticking it up in the air, thinking this is the perfect pose for my Instagram.

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