Roll up, roll up! Get your fast track to enlightenment right here!
(Pre requisites: headstand, handstand, forearm stand, proficiency in every yoga arm balance and deep backbend and the ability to touch your toes, preferably with your head on your thighs.)
Gulp. If the path to being a yoga student or teacher were ever to be judged on our physical prowess, many of us would give up before our feet had even graced the mat. Yet over the last decade, the flurry of social media, magazine articles and more have whipped the yoga world into somewhat of a frenzy – rarely a day goes by without something popping up that can either make you feel totally inspired, or let’s face it, downright inadequate. And for those of us who really desire to follow or even teach this wonderful practice, how do we stay committed when the yoga bar seems to be set so high?
I recently came across an Instagram image of a yoga teacher in a picture perfect handstand, legs entwined effortlessly in lotus, not a bead of sweat or red face in sight. Ugh. The green-eyed monster was working overtime in my mind as I sifted through the comment list, only to pause at one that said: “The perfect example of what a yoga teacher should be.” Juxtaposed to this is the fact that I’m reading these words in pigeon pose while my toddler squeals: “Get up Mummy, GET UP! NOOOO YOGA!”
As I rolled out my mat for a pretty tough vinyasa class this week, it really hit home how caught up many of us, including myself (heck, at the minute – especially myself!) have become in the physical layer of our practice. As we weaved our way through twists and turns, I could just catch sight of my saddlebags splurging menacingly out from underneath me in my forward fold. By the time an old, familiar Ashtanga pose, Marchiyasana D, (full bound twist) had reared its ugly head, I almost felt like crying. While yoga is well known for bringing up some powerful emotions, the thing that was driving me to the verge of tears this time was my own monkey mind’s sheer, unadulterated criticism.
“Call yourself a yoga teacher?!” it screeched. “I mean, we all know you’ve had a baby, but COME ON, she’s TWO now, no more excuses!! Remember the days you used to bind so easily in this pose, the days you used to rock that forearm balance?? Get it TOGETHER!! And while you are at it, lose a few more kilos will you?”
Geez. Now, if someone spoke to you like that, you would probably tell them to politely (or not so politely) take their comments and….ahem…shove them up their asana. You get the idea. So, why do we put up with our own destructive, inner dialogue on and off the mat? And why do we so often forget that the physical layer is just one tiny part of the vast yoga terrain?
“Well, I don’t think I’m good enough – I mean, I can’t do headstand yet,” one student told me, as we discussed whether or not she would ever take the leap into teaching after completing her 200 hours training. The anguish at needing to ‘perform’, at needing to live up to the perceived image of the ‘perfect’ student or teacher – it can be exhausting! While I’m not knocking anyone for having an amazing yoga practice – it shows dedication, determination and strength – there are some of us out there who might never physically reach that level. Does that make us any less of a student, or indeed any less of a teacher?
So, as I sit over my post yoga coffee letting these words flow, I wonder what the good angel on my shoulder would tell me…
Practice presence not perfection. Teach from your heart, not your headstand. Love yourself, muffin tops and all. Smile. Fall over. Laugh. Breathe. Repeat. It’s only yoga after all.