Battleground yoga mat: Self-improvement vs Self-acceptance.

Thanks Gurmukh-- I like where you are going with this one. It got me thinking and I realised I'm all about outcomes and self improvement, actually. I love change and working towards more of what I want and getting rid of what I don't. But I'm also big into making space for self-acceptance, letting go and having things be, as they are, in the right circumstances.

For those of you who take my classes, you know I’m of the mind that even if we come to yoga to get flexible, toned and lose weight it’s really important not to get too caught up in external outcomes so we can be present, breathe, soften the heart and move with deep love and respect for where we are at.

I’ve become a bit disenchanted by my ‘industry’ lately, seeing just how far the westernisation of yoga has gone, continuing to market yoga as practice as a means to obtain a hot yoga body. I’ve recently joined Pinterest (which I love for many reasons) but I’m noticing so many yogis are posting pictures of themselves in ‘inspiring’ poses, which, is not a problem in itself, but when coupled with narratives/blog posts about how to lose weight, get a tight butt, awesome chatturanga arms and how to look super hot (like them)—I do find THIS problematic. It takes yoga further away from its roots as a spiritual and personal practice that trains us in awareness, melts ego and opens the heart.

As far as I see it, the media and, awkwardly, the health industry is full enough with images of fake ‘ideal’ beauty, thin-obsession and unattainable body images, so lets not contribute to it, by internalizing these unrealistic standards for ourselves and worrying about our chatturanga arms.

Fact—If you do chatturanga enough, you will get *those* triceps.

Fact- Yoga WILL transform your body with a regular extended practice, whether or not you have this as your main goal.

When I practice, I try to forget about what my body is doing, and focus on how my body is BEING; it keeps my ego in check and keeps my practice real.

We can trust that yoga, by nature, is a practice that helps us move towards overall wellness, which includes helping us maintain our ideal body weight (when coupled with a healthy diet of ‘real food, not too much, mostly plants’ –  to quote Michael Pollan.

Goals and visualization for the life we want to live, as with our yoga practice, are important and infact these goals for self improvement are likely what got us to show up to a yoga class in the first place and what will keep us committed. But they are not an end point.

If your goal is flexibility and suppleness, you likely won't get the elasticity of a pro gymnast after just a few classes, but there’s no reason why you cant aim high and have this as your ultimate goal… Why not? You have potentially a lifetime of practice ahead of you and it gives us a focus for each time you step on the mat. And you might find, as you direct your effort towards the intention of flexibility in the body, you might find you also discover flexibility in the way you approach life. When you have a killer headache, or have had a rough nights sleep or for the women folk, if you are menstruating, your practice is going to be different and you need to modify accordingly. It doesn’t mean you throw away your goal, or give up, but you respect that the path is a journey, adapt and take the steps you can take, today.

There's a sutra I absolutely love from the Patanjali's Yoga Sutras-- 1.2 - "Sthira, Sukham, Asanam" It translates to 'effort and ease in your seat'. My teacher Idit introduced it to me and I have found it potent for exploration for nearly a year now. It means-- Strive, give effort, show up and do the work but balance this with sweetness, gentleness and ease with respect to exactly where you are at. So have your goals— get clear on exactly what you want from your time on the mat (and here on earth for that matter), set you sights on positive change, because your aspirations will excite and motivate you (and probably the folks around you too) but then practice/live with kindness, humility and a deep love for yourself and where you are at. It's not easy, but it's a mighty juicy challenge worth exploring.