“Yoga releases the pressure we live under. Here I can escape reality. Here I feel free.”

Mawadda, participant at a seaside yoga session in war-torn Libya

Is yoga becoming more of a performing art than a healing art?

Open a magazine or a book on yoga you are flooded with images of perfect bodies pictured in perfect asanas. Yoga is neither a comparative nor a competitive practice. Doing yoga is a personal practice, not a competitive sport. With this basic sensibility – a yogic value, the practice is safe and transformational.

For most of us, being content with what our bodies can do and what we look like in a pose is very challenging.

Lao Tzu calls contentment “the greatest treasure” and Patanjali said “santosha” – or being content as we are – is one of the qualities we should aspire to attain.

If a yogi cannot do a pose in an aesthetically pleasing way, they are considered “too tight”. It might be true that their muscles are too tight but it is also possible that their bones are compressing and if they push through, it could lead to injury.

The commonly used word “flexibility” is misleading and perhaps “range of motion” – how much a bone moves relative to another is more accurate.

To say a person is ‘flexible’ doesn’t discriminate between a large range of motion due to the shape of the bones or due to fascia and muscles being elastic.

All skeletons are different. There are two possible limits to range of motion: tension (stretching or the resistance of ligaments and muscles) and compression (bone contacting bone or pinching tissue between bones). It is crucial to identify the difference between these two sensations.

How often are we frustrated when our bodies won’t bend the way we think they should?

Our abilities to achieve certain poses are limited by many factors other than physical traits received at birth. In response to overuse, injury, stress or physical/emotional trauma, the body tightens up to avoid entering ranges it cannot control. Many injuries are brought about when we decide to go against our bodies and push just a little harder than they can go. Consider asking, “Is going further important?”
The true purpose of doing asanas is to learn about ourselves, not to achieve perfection. As we learn to be content with our bodies we can become more aware of our spiritual nature and our reason for being here: to serve.

The Yoga Sutra states: sthira, sukham, asanam: steadiness, ease and presence of mind. The main thing to ask is, can we breathe comfortably in a pose? If not, we have gone beyond our limit.

Let’s learn to recognize and honor our limitations rather than push past them. Let’s remind ourselves at the start of and during our practice, that what is currently happening is perfect, even if we are not as strong as we were yesterday.

Regular practice brings more mindfulness to our experience which leads to more awareness and greater sensitivity toward our bodies.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
Lao Tzu