What is yoga? It is like music

To be proud of your yoga positions is bad taste. To be able to do the poses "successfully" means nothing, nothing at all. Yoga should not become a circus. It must not be done as a refuge from life - Vanda Scaravelli

A couple of years ago, I went to a workshop with internationally renown ashtanga teacher David Swenson. A student asked: “what poses do I work on to get my legs into lotus pose?” (that pretzel posture you might imagine any yogi to spend their spare time sitting in). Mr Swenson was a little baffled; nevertheless he highlighted poses in the first ashtanga series which help opening the hips. 

But the student insisted as if the question had not been truly addressed: “yes yes, but what should I practise consistently so I can get into the pose?”. He raised his eyebrows and quoted his own teacher's broken sentence: “practice and all is coming”. I believe what he meant was: Keep on practising and - most of all - enjoy it. One day your legs will slip into lotus, maybe. In any case, is that really important?

The exchange stuck in my mind. What was it that drove this student to have the burning desire to get into this specific posture? Does being able to get into lotus (or whatever other pose) really makes you a better person? Happier? Enlightened? And, most of all, what is the advantage of “getting into lotus” in your daily life? Do you sit on the floor with your ankles on your thighs while having dinner?

The anxiety to reach targets to prove our self worth - very common in capitalistic societies where we are being told we always have to aspire to “more” or “better” - is truly the opposite of what yoga is for me: knowing and accepting myself for who I am (I’ll let you know when I managed). This is true about all aspects of ourselves, but we can start with the body, as this is the most tangible bit we can work on reasonably easily.

If we don’t accept who we are (I’m not good enough because I can’t get into lotus), how can we live well with ourselves? This is what yoga is really about. Accept your body (or your mind or your heart) for what they are and work with them, be kind to them; only at that point something will shift. If you are tense in your body or in your mind towards something (I can’t get into lotus, I don’t like this, I hate that) you are channeling energy in a negative way towards yourself, instead of doing the opposite. Change won't happen that way. Not real, deep and sustainable change.

My teacher Jean Hall said once: “transformation can only come from a place of softness”. That was a thunderbolt to my heart. Only by accepting who I was, I could work respecting my body, mind, emotions, limitations as well as recognising my strengths. How does ticking poses benefit my daily life? Well, it doesn’t.

So I came to think of the asana (physical) yoga practice as a piece of music: enjoy the whole of it, savour it bit by bit, the rises, the falls, the silences and the rushes, the texture and the quality of the sound. If you only focus on the last note, you miss the whole thing.

Source: Photo by Alice Moore on Unsplash