I wrote an email to a friend today, expressing some of the difficulty I’ve had in the past few months engaging with my yoga practice, figuring out what are the bits that I need, and which are the layers of exercise and flexibility over which I’ve draped on top. I am often well reminded that (in the words of another blogger),
“Yoga is not preparation for gymnastics and it can be dangerous to rate physical ability as the high point of yoga practice. Focusing on your breath as you move is a much greater accomplishment.”
It is always interesting to reflect back on something which has become such a large part of one’s life. I have been practicing since 2005, the last three years of which with a mysore-style practice. Much of my thinking is often informed using this intellectual and kinaesthetic framework.
The last year and half have provoked quite a revelation of changes in my yoga perspective (though always informed by consistent open inquiry). These days, my yoga helps me to learn about the patterns which reside in our bodies and minds – musculoskeletal, emotional, intellectual – using sensory modalities, critical analysis, and therapeutic and professional development methods, to help unravel these patterns.
I like to think I take a rather unique interdisciplinary perspective on things (oh, that need to feel special!), drawing from multiple awareness and movement traditions to connect with the self and figure out a way of being in this world. Ever considered why you might tilt your head one way more than the other (and how that affects your fascial lines down your body?) Think about gendered patterns of movement and muscular development? Or realize that you react particularly strongly to certain emotional situations? Ask why your family communicates (or doesn’t) the way it does? Or how our societal and cultural institutions prescribe certain ways of being in this world?
When I began practicing yoga, I had no prior experience in specific movement forms. I was not an athlete or dancer. I had generally avoided physical activity for much of my life, at least in part due to an undiagnosed asthma condition. Today, I have physically built a great deal more strength, endurance, and flexibility – not to mention halving my need for asthma medication in half. To deny the physical element of my yoga practice would ignore these important aspects. It would also ignore the fact that a great deal of my practice has ascribed much importance, and some pain and envy over the physical aspects of practice, the handstands, the jumpbacks and jump throughs.
Although today I know that practicing yoga has provided a space to explore beyond purely biomechanical or physiological arenas to a place of self-inquiry and honesty, it would be disingenuous to not admit how powerful the cult of the body can be, the drive for machine like perfection – the creation of an ultimate cyborg of sorts, riffing off the words of Donna Haraway.
So where does that leave me? In the garden of Eden, fighting against the lure of the apple?
If anything, one of the most important realizations I have made through practice revolves around the humanness of our experience, our knowledge, and relationships. We are complex creatures. We are fallible – incredibly so! Indeed, it is a lesson which I have already painfully learned in my life and doubtless the point will be driven home further as time passes. So in this space of being human, my hope for this practice, I suppose, is to help infuse our journey in this world with at least a little more honest inquiry, empathy, compassion, and grace.