Owner, Cascade Yoga Studio
This past holiday my nephew shared with me; "Aunt Viki, my fiancé has me doing yoga now. I am not good at it, but I feel great afterwards!" If I only had a nickel for every time someone told me that they can't practice yoga because they are not good at it.
So here is the real clincher... you can't be good at yoga. This concept of doing something without a reward, or accolades of any kind might not fit into any category, which we are familiar with. It might be one of the reasons why it is difficult for people to identify with.
Most of us have worked hard since the second grade reaching for that GPA, ACT, blue ribbon, title, trophy, attention, crossing the finish line, top of the mountain peak, financial compensation or any other external reinforcement. Goal setting or signing on for "my peak challenge," can be an excellent method for motivation and helpful for maintaining focus. But yoga doesn't fit into the genre of performance, and this is what makes it so healing, transformative and balancing the rest of our accomplishing lives.
This is not to demean students from working hard in yoga; in fact, it is mentioned in yogic texts. Tapas or effort is required in this practice but non-attachment to the end result is necessary. Tim Miller, who teaches a highly physical style of yoga (ashtanga), says the Western mind is attached to form over substance, substance being our essential nature. However, at the same time as yoga students, we can even become attached to the concept of enlightenment. Yoga is less about perfection or self-actualizing and more about self-acceptance.
A few months ago, my naturopathic doctor told me that he refers women to yoga because it is good for balancing their hormones. To which I responded,
"Dr. D., yoga is also good for men."
Dr. D.: "I have read studies that yoga creates anxiety for men."
Me: "I would assume that would have to do with performance anxiety of practicing in a room full of flexible women."
He smiled and acknowledged this as a certain possibility.
For those brave warrior souls who have ventured into a yoga studio, many report that after class they feel like they have just exercised, had a massage and visited their counselor. Yoga is an inside job, and we may not get the external applause for going to class. However, our insides will thank us eternally. The physical, mental, emotional, relational and the eventual health benefits are numerous and far reaching.
If there are students who feel like they are good at yoga, they have likely missed the point. While it might be motivating to keep working towards that crazy arm balance or nailing padmasana (lotus) in headstand, a yoga student could spend the rest of their lives chasing poses.
So how does one know if they are on the right path? Rather than a command performance, we work hard towards keeping our eyes on our own mats, becoming more aware of subtleties in our bodies, working with the alchemy of our breath, and noticing what is arising at this moment in regards to emotions, sensations and thoughts. If there were a goal in yoga, perhaps it would be to cultivate an unconditional presence. A willingness to be okay with whatever is going on at the present moment.
If these qualities are present in your practice, you are a master of yoga. Notice the feeling of liberation when you don't need an award to prove it... this is the real reward.