“What is the point?”
An exasperated student asked herself this when she was first introduced to the Ashtanga method of Yoga Asana (physical postures). Depending on how one is exposed to this method or the expectations of yoga the student already has, it can feel very fast, quite vigorous, and for some unnecessarily challenging.
This question, to me, has many layers and it goes far beyond what method of yoga a student prefers to practice. I also hear this question in those who have a certain belief about themselves, their body, and what yoga is in fact meant to do for the practitioner.
I am certain that every yoga teacher has also heard someone tell them at least one of the following: “I’m not flexible enough.” I’m not strong enough.” “My body doesn’t move that way.” “I have too much/not enough _____________.” “My __________ isn’t ____________ enough for that.” “I will try it when I can _____________ first.” “I can’t do that.”
It dawns on me that those who hold these beliefs before trying is in their own way asking “what is the point?” They have already decided what they’re able to do so why even try.
Here’s the thing though–if we spent our lives avoiding challenges, not allowing ourselves to try new things or give ourselves the opportunity to learn and grow beyond our current abilities, we wouldn’t have the chance to evolve at all. Physically or otherwise. No one goes to school because they know everything already.
In yoga, regardless of the method, what we are given is the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and that is power within itself. When we arrive on the mat we allow ourselves the experience of what it feels like to be in our body. We move and we breathe and with this process alone, whatever it looks like, we open ourselves up to feel not just new physical sensations, but also the emotions we hold back, and the thoughts that dictate our lives.
A consistent yoga practice allows us to build a foundation of experiencing vulnerability. When I move in this way, how does this feel? What are the sensations in my body? Can I honor those sensations by finding that balance of Sthira (effort or stability) and Sukha (ease) within my physical state but also in my heart and in my mind? Or do I allow the feelings of frustration to take over and fight, resist, or avoid the experience? Do I allow my thoughts to take over and suppress them, deny them, or proclaim them as fact?
What would happen if we let the stories go? The beliefs that we have about who we are and what we can do and the expectations that we hold for what we “should” do or “should” look like. Because here’s the thing: none of those stories are true.
Yoga does not ask us to contort ourselves into shapes beyond our ability. It doesn’t ask us to balance on our hands or stand on our head without first building a strong, safe, stable foundation. Yoga asks to meet us exactly where we are and build the flexibility, strength, and balance from there. The engagement required in each posture is so subtle and it takes time. A consistent practice–of any method that sparks a light within you–is the way to bridge the gap from where you are and where you’d like to go from there.
This is a philosophy that can’t be understood without experience. And the only way to practice changing the stories, changing our habits and creating new ones is to see the ones we already hold as clearly as possible.
Yoga allows us to engage with that intention and helps us on a journey of growth and evolution. The next time you hear yourself speak in a way that is a story disguised as truth, what you can do is practice shifting your perspective. Rather than declare yourself all-knowing you can approach your practice, your body, and yourself with openness and curiosity.
You can instead choose to allow yourself to fully experience each moment. You can let go of past beliefs and abilities, let go of future expectations, surrender to what is, and simply take it one breath at a time.