As an aspiring Yogi (and a busy being having a human experience), I’ve come to learn that when I am not paying attention, I can cause harm to myself. I can do this while practicing or teaching Yoga or while cooking or at any moment when I am in a hurry or distracted. When I am not present and listening during a conversation, I can miss important details. When I am eating and not present for each bite, indigestion can cause pain later in the day.
During my teacher training, our instructor asked us: ”Why are you teaching or doing this pose?” This made an immediate impact on me. I might say…it’s great for digestion! It stretches the hamstrings! It’s a terrific opener for the hips!!! As time passed and I continued to ask myself this question, I realized the question goes deeper than an explanation or knowledge of the benefits of a pose. As a teacher, we can lose sight of the true benefits of a yoga practice as we focus on how to sequence a class and what poses to include. We may feel that a pose has sooooo many benefits and I NEED to teach this (or I NEED to be able to do this pose myself!)!! Then, we see that some of our students can’t get their bodies into that shape or we ourselves become injured by forcing ourselves into a posture because our intention is to achieve a ‘goal’. No pain..no gain? Nope. In Yoga, there should no pain while practicing the poses.
Somewhere, the essence of the practice can be lost when we put too much focus on the poses (asanas) and the idea that if we just keep stretching and practicing, we will get there! Many of us will NEVER get into Lotus pose or a headstand or a handstand. Does that mean we are less of a Yogi or are we ‘bad’ at Yoga? (side note: no one is ‘bad’ or ‘good’ at Yoga- if you’re feeling it, you’re doing it!). The ‘true’ essence of Yoga is Union- a path to re-connect with our true self. It’s a way to return to balance and harmony between mind, body and heart. Whether you practice the ‘physical poses’, meditation, breath work or chanting or devotion, you are simply creating union within yourself. Some of my teachers have referred to this as ‘coming home to yourself’.
How do we keep our attention on the essence of Yoga so that we do not cause harm to ourselves or our students? I ask my students to have an intention for their practice known as Sankalpa. This intention should embody your higher purpose, your heart’s desire or a dedication in honor of another person or a spiritual deity. I, too, practice and teach with intention so that my ego doesn’t take over. Many students come to Yoga for weight loss, strengthening, a less flabby butt, killer abs…but if they stick with it, they get SO much more than a better body. They can feel happier, calmer, less stressed…and those initial ideas about changing their body fades away to a new feeling of compassionate self-acceptance.
With our attention on our Sankalpa, we are reminded WHY we are practicing Yoga and we can truly be present for the experience and not a ‘goal’. Instead of the ego telling us we are not doing the pose correctly or not going as far into the stretch as our fellow student or we just need to give MORE effort, we return to that higher intention often during the practice. It’s a reminder that I can use a block when I am in Triangle pose because that works for my body. I can sit on a cushion if it feels right for my hips. Another wise teacher told me- “It takes more courage to NOT do a pose or modify it, than to try and force yourself into something that hurts”.
I realize that the way I teach Yoga will not appeal to everyone and that it may not be physically ‘challenging’ enough. However, no matter how vigorous a practice you seek, it is still important to know WHY you are doing it. We can let go of expectations, be present and enjoy our practice with our Sankalpa to ground us and allow us the space to just ‘be’.
At this point, you may be wondering why there is a photo of a goat accompanying this blog. It’s because I love goats and will include cute photos of baby goats whenever and wherever I can. If you clicked on this hoping for more about goats, I hope you are not too disappointed.
Ardent Admirer of Baby Goats