I think these Instagram yoga posters are giving people the wrong picture of what yoga is. They’re giving the picture that yoga is about the picture. It’s about the aesthetics. It’s a thing I’ve battled since stepping on the mat for the first time.
I’ve battled the idea that anything aside from the postures matters. I’ve battled the idea that reaching for postures is the right approach to a practice. And right now I’m battling the pervading idea that just doing a handstand is doing yoga.
Is this because I’m bitter that I can’t do a decent handstand? Very probably. That and the forearm balances like Pincha Mayurasana are my holy grail. I can’t seem to get there. You would think after so much vigorous time on my mat I’d be more capable upside down. It’s just not that way. I’m a bundle of fear when it comes to the world of inversions; I’m afraid to further damage my shoulders. Also, I’ve got, like, the weakest core ever. Yeah, I do strength training on that bit of me here and there, but my inversion progress is nil. So I’m trying to stop caring, and in my trying to stop giving a damn I’m reconsidering my approach to the practice and getting to a place where I feel like all the fancy postures internet yoga celebs post aren’t yoga-like at all.
Where I’m at now is a belief that we shouldn’t reach for postures we aren’t ready for. Yeah, we should work hard, and I do, but I think we should approach the practice as that, a practice, and not a performance.
And this sounds like total hypocrisy coming from me. Some of the aesthetics of yoga come easily for me. I bend well. Most arm balances aren’t outside my abilities. So it would be easy to believe that that’s why I do yoga. But I really asked myself that a few months ago—Why do I come to the mat? What do I get with the sweat? I get patience, which is foreign to me. I get humility, which, if I’m leveling with you, despite my hateful self-talk, doesn’t actually come easily for me. I’ve got awesome flooding my veins. I’ve got talent to spare and a knack for expression; it turns me into this beast of reckless confidence and ego. I tell Jim that no one has more confidence in me than me and no one has less confidence in me than me. I like how my yoga practice brings me down a couple notches. Revolved triangle may look easy, but it’s perhaps the worst posture of all time. I still can’t kick out in standing-head-to-knee. Gomukhasana used to be cake, but then I beat the shit out of my shoulders and I have to vary my arm positions in order to avoid exacerbation. During my competitive weightlifting days I learned how to care for and strengthen the small muscles in my shoulders. How I wish I’d followed through with what I learned.
Don’t get me wrong, I do give in to the tricks a lot. I learned an inverted compass variation a few weeks ago, and I can’t stop doing it. It looks stunning, and I like that it is so much harder on my left side than my right. I like having a place to reach for. I like to make my body do things that look weird and miraculous. But I am settling in this place where I look for the postures and flows that will make me strong and calm yet not necessarily make me look like a yoga rockstar. I have been backing out of postures I can do to their full expression in order to revisit the form. I have come to believe so strongly that form must must precede depth if you want a longterm practice free of pain.
Too many new practitioners bust into the yoga scene and blow past the basics looking only for the postures that will make them online sensations. But guys, yoga isn’t about the pose. It’s about the progress. And I don’t even mean the progress into a pose. Yoga’s about the progress you can’t see. Maybe it’s confidence. Maybe it’s healing. Maybe it’s respect. Most of the time it’s none of my business. Much of a practice is personal.
I don’t have an issue with taking and sharing photos of favorite poses to show visual proof of progress in postures. Now and then. I don’t have a problem with it if it’s a here-and-there thing. If you worked for something, it’s satisfying to share it with the people who care about you. But not every damn day. I did that photo session with Ashley Thalman a few years ago and I’d like to do another. My practice has changed. So has my body. Occasionally documenting the shifts of something that I do every day is valuable.
|A favorite from Ash's shoot.|
The negative space speaks of possibility, doesn't it?
People come to the practice of yoga in their own way. Some start with meditation, find pranayama (breath) and then progress to asana (postures). Some start with asana and use pranayama as a tool to discover meditation.
Once we’ve settled in a practice of our own, I believe that it’s our responsibility to care for the new people. A vinyasa practice generally isn't satisfying for me if there isn’t an arm balance in there somewhere, so I take one in order to get what I came to the mat for. But I try to only do that if I’ve determined that it’s not disrespectful to my fellow yogis in the room. (If you want to do whatever you want, do a home practice. Practicing in a class is a different discipline.) If we introduce beginning yogis to a practice that’s all flash and no substance, we’re doing them a disservice. And that’s why I’m bummed out about all the fancy Instagram yoga folk. What they demonstrate multiple times every day is just a practice in acrobatics. Maybe they should hashtag it that way—
#doingthisforlikes #shouldjustjoinacircus #whatdoyoumeanyogaismorethanadhomukhavrksasana #waitwhatisadhomukhavrksasana #doyoumeanhandstand