Sure, it’s great to twist yourself into a pretzel and stand on your head, but once the novelty wears off (let’s face it- your friends don’t really care if you can do this pose or not), there are deeper benefits to enjoy.
Greater self-awareness is one of best unexpected “perks” of the physical yoga practice. It begins in a deceptively simple way- “Bring your attention to your breath,” the instructor might say, and then, gradually, as you are reminded, again and again, you learn to bring your attention back to the breath. Then, to the physical sensations you experience. Finally, over time, you become more aware of your emotions, and the inner dialogue that narrates your practice. “OMG I touched my nose to my knee! I am awesome. Crap, I always fall out of this pose, I will never be any good at it. That woman is thinner/stronger/better/more flexible/drinks more green smoothies than I do. I should be better at this. What is wrong with me?!”…
Time for the True Confessions portion of the blog: When I began my practice, if I fell out of a balancing pose like Vrksasana, or Tree Pose– I was intensely critical of myself. I often make a joke of this in my classes- reminding students that their worth as a human being does not depend on their ability to balance on one foot- because to me, at that time, I really felt like it did. Yeah, I hear how crazy this sounds. But I never recognized this negativity and self-hate was there until I began to tune in.
Tuning in to the inner experience, and listening to that silent dialogue, is the beginning of self-inquiry that serves you beyond your yoga mat. I recognized this with sparkling clarity several years ago while listening to a Baron Baptiste audio podcast. “How you do anything,” he said, “is you you do everything.” In other words, your behavior on your yoga mat is just a microcosmic example of your behavior in the rest of your life.
So painfully true! Once I heard my inner critic on my mat, I began to hear her hypercritical and unforgiving voice everywhere. Work. Home. Commuting. She didn’t even like the way I washed my hair! Rude.
So the practice on your mat can be an amazing laboratory for self-inquiry. The trick is not to get caught in a cycle of judgment over the whole thing. There’s no need to be critical about the criticism. Another true example: Why are you always so hard on yourself? You should know better).
For this reason, I recommend that you don’t set out to change or quiet your own inter critic. Set yourself a manageable goal- just tune in. The initial work is just to notice your reactions. Over time, as you bring your awareness to the voice again and again, you may find that your reactions shift. I’d love to say that I am now completely cured of my self-criticism, but I have a long way to go. Still, to paraphrase a famous recovery program, recognition is the first step.
If how you do anything is how you do everything- what has your practice taught you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!