Chasing the Pose: Growth and Progress in Yoga
How do you view progress? Is growth important to you? In our goal-driven society, it’s hard to escape the notion of self-improvement through some sort of progression. It comes naturally to humans to want to perform “better” than we did before. We seem to like tangible markers of where we were and how far we have come.
That notion of needing to grow and progress permeates all aspects of our lives: as human beings, in our personal relationships, at work – even in yoga.
But what, exactly, is progress in yoga? And how can we measure it?
Instagram is awash with images of beautiful young people performing a technically “advanced” pose two years ago adjacent to a photo taken more recently with an even more “perfect” demonstration of the same pose.
They perform handstands and backbends and complicated poses for which I don’t even know the names with such ease.
Impressive? Definitely. Inspiring? Perhaps. Disheartening? A little.
While I love the beauty and accessibility of Instagram, its appeal (beautiful images) is also a drawback, in yoga at least. Surely this focus on the external practice can only lead to compromise of any internal, intuitive work?
I have a confession to make: I cannot reliably get into any of those postures so beautifully displayed on Instagram and I doubt I ever will, no matter how many hours I put in. Sometimes I might do an approximation; sometimes my body just says no and doesn’t even want to try.
Of course, we all need goals as we “progress” through our lives, otherwise the danger is that we drift aimlessly. Some of us are definitely more goal-orientated than others and having a goal to work towards motivates and drives us forward in our lives.
And if you’re a performance athlete you need to set yourself targets to improve your technique and gain those micro advantages over others in your field.
But yoga is not a competitive sport. Sometimes this can be hard to believe when practising in a large class: we’ve all succumbed to the temptation of extending beyond our natural limitations, chasing that extra centimetre or two of stretch and casting a sideways glance either in the mirror to see how we look or the other way to see how we compare to our neighbour. Or is that just me?!
Yoga should be a space for us where we do not judge ourselves by our abilities to perform any particular pose, where postures are not “goals” and growth and progress is not mapped out in our physical accomplishments. Being able to touch your toes is a happy by-product of a yoga practice, not the reason for practising.
Growth and Progress
My “progress” in yoga has been to finally listen to my nearly 50-year-old body – as it ages, as they all inevitably do – and learn to not just work with the limitations that I’ve was born with and have battled with over the years but to tune in and listen to what my body’s needs are on any given day.
It means that I can work with my unreliable and temperamental back and help give it a little more ease rather than stretching and possibly overstretching, doing more harm than good.
I’ve learned that chasing the final posture is not always the best practice for me that day. Perhaps the final posture is not the best practice for me at all. Ever.
And you know what? That’s fine by me. As Vanda Scaravelli said: “Do not kill the instinct of the body for the glory of the pose”.
We grow as human beings through our experiences and understanding of the world; so it should be with our yoga practice. It grows through the quiet understanding of our own bodies and progresses through the intuitive application of that understanding.
This isn’t advice never to work towards a headstand, or whichever pose you want to crack. How we face our challenges and work with them is also part of yoga. It’s wonderful to have a sense of achievement in all things, and that definitely includes yoga. The adrenalin released through finally getting into whichever pose you’ve been working towards is undeniable.
But don’t make the end destination be the only reason for your practice. Enjoy the journey along the way.
How do you chart your growth and progress in yoga – or life? I’d love to know.