Last night at the park, after my run, a girl was practicing yoga next to me. (A cute assortment of yogis had gathered at one end of the track.) She did lots of stretchy poses, the ones I like to do: Standing Crescents, High Lunges, Wide-Legged Forward Bends. And after enough peeking, I noticed a certain drama, and emphasis, on the flexibility. A prevailing hardness, not so much softness. And I realized, “That’s me. That’s how I (used to?) practice.”
I hadn’t escaped the showmanship. I was very conscious of the shapes I could or wanted to make. The more flexible I got in my practice, the more I felt the temptation to show off how flexible I was. Yoga was still an achievement, a skill, a linear path. Challenging the body, pushing towards an idealized shape, gave me a goal on which to focus, and a feeling of actually DOING something. I only started breathing deeply in yoga a couple years ago.
I’m studying therapeutic yoga now, and anatomy, and it’s made me close my eyes to go for feeling instead of shape. “Ugly Yoga”, someone called it. Permission is granted to differ from the pictures on the posters. Deeper layers of muscles are being found. Practice feels like conversation with the body, not mastery. And old poses have acquired new energy.
But still, it’s hard to practice without performing. Our extroverted culture encourages beautiful entertainers, and we’re all social beings. (Shantitown has a good post about acknowledging the desire to be recognized.)
I try to remember that recognition, once received, is actually an obstacle, just like the Sutras say about siddhis. [III.37 — “These faculties are obstacles in contemplation, but powers in active life.”] Recognition may serve me socially, but it’s one more thing I have to battle on my mat. Once I get it, I expect it again. If I don’t get it, I wonder “why not?” And there are much cooler things to focus on.