Entering into the “world of yoga” can be intimidating. Especially in Los Angeles and especially in your mid-20’s, there’s a lot of pressure to achieve a certain standard. To add to this pressure, I’ve primarily developed my personal practice and knowledge of yoga by teaching myself at home.
In grad school right now, we’re learning in detail about the different types of guru-student relationships – characterized by one-on-one mentorship from a “teacher,” in this sense, spiritually focused – that are so essential to understanding and developing a personal yoga practice, in keeping with yoga’s historical and traditional integrity. However, the reality is that the rapid growth in popularity of yoga among Westerners today (especially in the States) has largely diminished concern for consistency in the traditional practice of yoga, simply out of necessity. In the interest of “reaching” as many people as possible, yoga teachers and studios aim to pack their [increasingly, hot] rooms to capacity. This leaves many intermediate yogis who have grown to feel and appreciate the deeper benefits of yoga, lacking the classically acclaimed direction and guidance necessary from a “teacher” to enable their development from intermediate to advanced; or, more specifically, to harness the full benefits of yoga in the truest sense, enabling cultivation of utmost strength, happiness and longevity.
I acknowledge and respect that not everyone who is interested in yoga seeks or expects any psychological or spiritual benefit. (I started with Bikram, remember?) But for those who have recognized a shift in thinking since beginning their practice, or might in the future, it’s natural to yearn for greater nourishment – perhaps, a teacher training – to explore the full scope of your evolving practice. While Westerners continue to sort through this puzzle of adapting traditional Eastern practices into modern Western society (big things to come from my wonderful peers at LMU!), it’s important to keep in mind for your personal practice, the integrity and real purpose of yoga – and not to let the pressure get to you.
If you’ve “followed” any yogis on Instagram lately, you’re likely familiar with the pressure I’m talking about. The intimidation factor that has made its mark on yoga in the West emphasizing achievement in yoga as equivalent to obtaining physical strength and a glamorous physique. (I recently saw the winner of an Instagram yoga contest posted a picture of herself in wheel pose, perfectly toned, in her bra and panties…) So, in order to be credible in the “yoga world,” you need to be able to stand on my hands, touch your feet to your head, and jump through a ring of fire (naked)? Props to those girls (& guys), but I’m not sure that’s for me, and if I’m a beginner, this might make me think yoga’s not for me. Sometimes, like many others I know, I’ve put down my phone after an intense scrolling session and decided: “I’ll just practice later.” I lost my yearning in a wave of feeling that my practice was inferior; this, of course, being the antithesis of the very virtues we’re trying to cultivate in yoga: of confidence, of feminine power (shakti) and of unconditional love.
However, those images are only one perspective on “beauty” and honestly, though they are beautiful, I think they’re overplayed. Where’s the color, the fun, the creativity, the authenticity that truly characterize yoga? Have you ever laid in child’s pose and allowed your breath to takeover, losing sense for a brief moment of your long “To Do” list, and with it, the arguments and disappointments of the day? Finding this kind of calm in an otherwise hectic day of work and errands; that is truly beautiful. And the ease and accessibility of this posture – that anyone, anywhere, of any age, race, or orientation, can achieve this benefit (or, “yoga high”) in child’s pose – That is beautiful.
All this to say, whether in your yoga practice or out in the world, you should feel free to be, do and live as you are and where you are, today. This is your life, and there is no right way. That applies to your yoga asanas, Instagram posts, professional trajectory and personal interactions. There is a healthy way, a kind way, and an authentic way – but not a right one. Don’t let others’ standards (with their fancy handstands or boardroom presentations) make you think any differently about yourself, and what you could or should do to succeed, and to be valued. You are valuable, and your contribution is already great, whether you realize it or not – as long as it comes from a place that is genuine. Thinking boldly in this way, nothing can stop you. And more likely than not, you’ll be surprised by just how much you can do. Sometimes, I’ve learned, we are our own best teacher.
Next time you practice, whether in a class, in your bedroom, or in front of your television, remember that there’s more to yoga than handstands and that there’s more to you than meets the eye. And allow this awareness to inspire you, in all aspects of your life.
I also challenge you to post a picture of yourself on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter in your favorite, simple yoga posture (mine is tree pose – above!) as a friendly reminder to everyone out there that there is real beauty in simplicity. You just have to be willing to change your perspective.
Be bold, be beautiful Xx