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Why the unhealthy obsession with the perfect yoga pose misses the point

With a main focus on external judgement, a person’s yoga practice is usually assessed at his/her ability to get into and out of a physical yoga pose. 

With a main focus on external judgement, a person’s yoga practice is usually assessed at his/her ability to get into and out of a physical yoga pose.

Strong Yoga Practice - Easily contort and manipulate the external body into different shapes

Why are we even judging yoga as strong/weak?

Questions about the unhealthy obsession with aesthetics affect the world in general, and, unsurprisingly, have made their way into the yogic sphere. The current Western attachment to yoga is based, it seems, primarily on its physical benefits.

“Do yoga to become stronger, more flexible, better at sex!!!”

Practicing safe alignment and physical engagement is definitely important, aiding injury and those who sit all day, but these are not where the essence of the practice sits.

Ironically, I could throw my body round like a rag doll for decades, pushing and squeezing my way into the ‘perfect pose’. I may be physically stronger and more flexible (not sure about the sex bit…), but I would still only scratch the surface of yoga practices in their true intent.

It doesn’t matter how perfect your Warrior 2 alignment is, if you’re still holding your breath between poses, comparing, judging and competing with yourself and others, you’ve got some real work to do.

We’re in such a rush to get the ‘proper’ look of yoga, we forget that yoga is a tool we use to become more awake in ordinary moments of our lives. By consciously breathing and turning inwards during a yoga class, developing compassion and empathy for ourselves and others we practice besides, we’ll be better equipped to catch ourselves on the bus judging someone unfairly. When we learn to use the breath to understand and manage our own insecurities on the mat, we’ll be better equipped to navigate insecurities in our day to day life.

Once we’re in a pose, aligned, engaged and consciously breathing, our attention should turn inwards to our bodily sensations, feelings and thoughts. It’s amazing what you’ll hear inside your head - cycles of judgement and comparison, worry and doubt, discomfort and jealousy plague most of us.

Here’s where the real work happens.

Can you be with all of those shadow parts of yourself in a yoga class and learn to let go?

Instead of constantly comparing your physical performance to others, return to your breath and accept that you’re absolutely perfect wherever you are in a pose, regardless of how it looks. Instead of worrying about whether you can do a backbend, think how you can open your heart and be more compassionate to yourself and others.

All of our bodies are different, some parts of us may never fit into a pose the way that you’d like, but that doesn't mean we’re ‘bad’ at yoga.

Traditionally, Eastern yogis’ primary practice was to sit with their internal discomforts, breathing and witnessing the fluctuations of the mind and body, until eventually reaching a point where their internal development led to a stronger, more open physical structure. Physical prowess wasn’t the goal, but a good determination of a persons inner landscape was how they used their external body.

These days we do it the other way. We squeeze through physical discomfort long enough, eventually hoping that some internal benefits will surface.

In our yoga classes, we may look to those who appear the strongest and more physically advanced as having developed the highest yogic attainment. Whilst their physical feats are impressive and beautiful to see, this isn’t the full story. They may be ballet dancers or gymnasts; their beautiful binds may be assisted by extreme hypermobiity - chances are, they still run through the same patterns of judgement and comparison.

As challenging as it may be to develop a stronger physical practice, it is nothing compared to the discomfort of looking at your internal voice and working through your true insecurities. The internal practice takes a much longer time, and most yoga practitioners would rather never take the journey inwards, choosing to perfect their handstand and compare it to others’ on Instagram, instead.

Yoga offers so much more if you have the courage to let go of your attachment to the aesthetics of your body. We all fall in and out of this trap - it’s human. It is a case of being honest with ourselves and remembering that we are not defined by our physical bodies.

The body will grow old and die one day. We may as well learn to detach now! Use your body how you can; be grateful that you can play, jump and be curious, but don't take it too seriously, I urge you to take the journey inwards.

Tagged with: Yoga

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