This past weekend, I went back to Tucson to go to a yoga workshop with my sister. Yoga, the way most people do it here, is asana, a physical practice— take your body through a series of shapes and poses, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Pay attention to breath, focus on your body. And now more than ever, the physical shapes of yoga— the impressive balances and bends— are fetishized. Even serious students who know better sometimes can’t resist the allure of chasing a perfectly straight leg or a “yoga butt”, whatever that is. Yes, even me, who definitely knows better.
Over this weekend, we did a lot of asana. We sat in that studio for ten hours, and for most of that time, we were talking about or doing poses. We did lots of discovering of how to turn on various muscles and how to create stability and openness in our bodies, often with tiny movements, and sometimes without external movement at all (what my dear friend Megan dubbed “micro-asana”). This is always welcome to me, because I live a highly physical existence and any time I can encourage integrity in my body, it’s a good thing. Christina Sell, who taught the workshop, is a master of this kind of cueing. Who knew how to get your outer shin muscles to fire up? But that’s not really the point, as she reminded us. Urdhva dhanurasana is not a life skill, she says, and of course, she’s right. But learning not to be mad at yourself when you can’t lift your head off the floor is. Learning not to feel superior when you find a pose easily is. Learning to ask for help is. Learning to get the props you need is. Learning to work where you are is. Learning to figure out where you should sit in discomfort and where you should stop is. You can learn these things practicing yoga poses. You won’t necessarily, but you can.
Christina also spoke about perfection and what a crock it is. She opened one of the sessions saying “I’ll do my best, you’ll do your best, and we’ll proceed from there.” It can be effective even if it isn’t perfect, she says. This was about poses, but also about life. You get the benefits from trikonasana whether or not your look like Mr. Iyengar in light on yoga, if you are honest in your engagement with your body and the pose. In fact, you might get more benefit the further from perfect you are. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
So much of this is about the self— understanding the self, engaging with the self, bettering the self— that it’s easy to forget the ways that yoga is also about being self-less. Yoga— translated sometimes as union— shares DNA with community. When we create openness and acceptance and eventually love within the self, we can live it in our interactions with others, and this is a path to peace and healing. Which frankly, we could all use right now.