It was an innocuous-enough question: what breaks your heart about what you do in yoga? And, immediately drew forth one of two frequently frustrating things yogis hear. Both, let’s be clear, are loud and furious statements of fear and disinclination to curiosity, both deeply seated in ego.
Perfect: not a word you’re gonna hear a lot in yoga. Like, ever.
The first one: Yoga’s not for me; I’m not that flexible. My answer is always the same: It has very little to do with flexibility; if you can control at least one of your lungs, there is yoga I can give you.
More on that one in a future post.
The other: I tried yoga once, I wasn’t that good at it. Not my thing.
This one is never easy to hear because it means, on some level, this person didn’t hear the message that yoga is a practice, and not a perfect. Literally nobody nails it the first time, and the longer you practice, the more you realize there is forever more to learn. Sure, a long and devoted yoga practice can bring change and let practitioners see progress sometimes. But the progress isn’t the point; the practice is.
But this one is hard for people to wrap their heads around. Especially in a culture driven by constant forward momentum with language that supposes only the best will do with phrases like “killed it” or “crushed it” to mean, simply, “did well.”
Yoga is a process, and nobody’s body will do the same every day, as any yoga teacher will say. But to enter a yoga practice with the expectation of perfection almost completely sets up the student for feelings of failure.
As yoga teachers, we can help mitigate some of this, and use language to support newcomers as well as experienced practitioners, language that says it’s not only okay but important to simply be where you are, to extend yourself patience and compassion and trust, and the space to listen to your body and let it be where it is and go where it wants to go.
Ahimsa extends to ourselves on the mat, and allowing and simply noticing without necessarily reacting or forcing can not only build a yoga practice, but can change an entire outlook.