Donna Farhi, in the introduction to her wonderful book “Yoga mind, body and spirit” says: “Like the botanist who finally breeds the perfect rose only to discover that in the process he has lost the fragrance of the bloom, when we strip yoga to its mechanics, we also lose something essential.”
Many of us think yoga is about flexibility and agility. And when we practise in this way, wanting to stretch further, be slimmer and wanting to change something about our body and ourselves we miss out on the lessons being quietly presented to us in our practice.
I have a bad back, and if I overstretch I can reinjure that already sensitive part of my body. But this injury is my daily reminder of the lesson I so badly need to learn in life, of finding that middle way, that delicate balance between challenging myself and accepting my limitations.
I am flexible, but not that flexible and if my ego gets in the way I get concerned about being a yoga teacher who cannot do all the postures perfectly. But then I remember why I practice and it isn’t to be able to do all the postures perfectly or to be able to show off to others how stretchy I am. With time and practice the postures will improve. But I practice to practice mindfulness and to gain awareness of my body, my mind and my life, my limitations and my abilities. I practice to strengthen my body, something that doesn’t happen over night. I practice to open up the tight knots in my body, to slowly release them and let go of the tension they hold. I practice to relax. I practice breathing to learn to breathe correctly even when I am not thinking about breathing. I practice for all the other things yoga gives me.
My back is my reminder that when we practise with ego we can harm, and when we practice with kindness we can heal. Going through the motions is pointless. But being fully present as we go through the motions can teach us the most subtle of lessons, that by accepting where we are and relaxing with it can we move beyond and go further than force and strength will ever take us. It is often difficult to see and it is even harder to learn and truly understand.
Donna Farhi concludes the paragraph by saying “The task of today’s teachers and students is to reclaim the essential spirit and intention behind these practices in a way that challenges rather than placates the underpinnings of this Western mind. For it is this change of mind that is so desperately needed to bring about healing in the world today.”
Yoga might lead to stretchy people but being bendy isn’t the purpose. The lessons I learn in my practice are for me, and they are not the same as the lessons anyone else will learn, but we all have something to learn.