For my first few years of practicing yoga I noticed a desire to go further into the poses as my body became more used to the sensations and positions of the postures, I think this is natural for most practitioners but for me soon became a constant search for more in my practice.
I began practicing yoga about 8 years ago and I immediately felt a acceptance from the community of students and instructors. Receiving praise from my teacher was something that I loved to hear, but subconsciously created a complicated environment around the practice of yoga. I remember going further into the posture when my teachers walked past me, I remember letting them adjust me in postures to “help me go deeper”, then after class getting that reaffirming comment from the instructor on the way out the door. “Great job going deeper in Camel Pose today Matthew”!
Although positive on the surface, without the simultaneous teaching of a mindfulness practice, this “going deeper” mentality can be damaging. I recall a specific back bending workshop that I took where the leader of the workshop adjusted me in front of the entire class. In that moment I felt pressured to move deeper into the pose than I normally would be comfortable with. I was also being physically manipulated by the teacher to move my body deeper into the back bend, which I felt I must go along with, so as to not embarrass myself or the instructor. When I achieved what the instructor was trying to get me to do the whole room began to applaud. Nothing hurt in that moment, but the damage that was being done was happening on an entirely different level.
At the time, I think the praise of going deeper in a yoga pose felt better than the yoga pose itself, it was so nice to feel like someone was on my team!
For the first year I continued to practice, thinking that going deeper into the postures was just straight up better, and in those years my ego drove my yoga practice. I practiced relentlessly, somehow thinking that by moving into the furthest expressions of the yoga postures I would unlock some sort of secret power. The secret eventually showed up in the form of a torn hip adductor muscle, pectineus to be exact. I got this injury from pushing my hips deeper and deeper in cobblers pose, thinking that my knees have to touch the ground to get maximum benefit from my practice.
Society often tells us that more is better. The message I see from so many ads is to achieve more. Get a partner, a house, some kids. Get that promotion, get a lot of friends, be liked by your peers. Get more money, a bigger house. Get another promotion, get a new car, get a summer home, a winter holiday. Buy more, do more, be more. The message is everywhere, and the world of yoga is not immune to it.
The practice of yoga became a greedy search for more sensations and I thought that if I was going to spend an entire hour of my day doing yoga, it better well be worth it. Applying this expectation to my practice began to take away the very thing that I fell in love with when I started practicing yoga, the community or as they call it in Sanskrit, the sangha, and the sense of being in the moment. Expectations reduced my ability to be in the moment, I was stuck in an attachment mindset.
Luckily I met someone that changed my yoga practice forever and taught me more about my body than I had ever known before. This teacher is such a gem and taught me so much about bio-mechanics in yoga poses. I am so grateful for her teachings because it shifted the way I do yoga, and the way I teach yoga.
The Buddha talks about attachment and aversion being the two main things that take one away from being present in this moment. It shows up in yoga by wanting to create the same results as the last time one was in the pose, attachment. It shows up by being afraid of feeling something in ones body or mind, aversion.
Going further into yoga poses can be amazing, but so can the subtle sensations of relaxation in the poses, the practice of finding that perfect balance between challenge and ease. The balance between using what you know about your body to practice safely, but also exploring the beginners mind and going somewhere unknown. I think of this as moving into kindness. Offering your body something it didn’t have to strive for, something it didn’t have to reach for, something that was there all along in the quiet space of your heart. Something you don’t have to buy, or try on, or prove to anyone. Nowadays I find myself searching for a different meaning in my yoga practice, one that shows me my subtle side but can surprise me with my subtle strengths as well.
Try it for yourself, start your next yoga practice with the intention of doing the postures with no more than about 25% effort and see what shows up for you. When I practice this way I am able to better feel my needs in the posture, and in the end of class I feel myself drop right into a relaxing savasana because my body didn’t become so amped up.
Then comes stillness. Soak it up.