Pose or Personality?
I recently heard about an article in the New York Times Magazine about yoga causing injuries. I must admit that I had a reaction to that information even before I read the article, which eventually I did read. Here’s my opinionated and short answer: Yoga doesn’t cause injuries. People do. Actually, ego does.
Ego (asmita) is the part of us that we believe is us. We take ourselves to be this personality because we are taught at an early age that that is who we are. Ego has opinions, desires, and aversions. These arise from ignorance (avidya) of our true nature or essential being. Let’s not go too far down that road right now.
Let’s take it to the mat. On the mat we can observe the bodily sensations, feel the stretch, notice the strength, release the breath, relax and play. When we are present to the experience of being in the body on the mat, we are fine. Then comes in ego’s judgmental voice. “You aren’t doing it as well as the person in the photo. She’s better than you.” And we’re off and running. Instead of staying with our experience of noticing our own body and mind, we begin to push. “I can do that better.” Or perhaps, we give up. “I’ll never be able to do that.” In either case, we’ve moved out of the realm of present moment awareness and into the realm of wishing things were different. We’ve left the place of awareness and moved into the place of habitual reaction to the experience of awareness.
(By the way, the voice can be the voice of someone else, perhaps a teacher or friend, who encourages you to push your body past its current ability. At this moment, the responsibility is yours to listen to your own body and remain steady in your experience. Be your own best friend here.)
Yes, we do want to challenge ourselves to learn new poses, to improve on familiar ones, as well as to step out of habitual belief patterns. Frequently our old habits don’t work (either on or off the mat), yet, they are familiar and comfortable like an old sweater that we wear even though it no longer provides warmth. That’s fine. Just know that you are doing it and why.
Where does this leave us? In the place of recognition of having lost our attention. Knowing that our attention has wandered, we can return to the place of paying attention – both to the experience and to the internal or external voices that remark on what we should be doing or how we should feel. If it is not the voice of compassion, it has no information for you. Compassion allows us the freedom to explore the pose, the mind, and the moment without judgment. And, really, what else is there?
Yoga is not about the pose. Yoga is about joy of learning who we are beyond the discursive mind that tells us who we should be.
May your life on and off of the mat be filled with joy and compassion.
Love and namaste,