A yoga friend mentioned to me the other day that an experience that interferes with her yoga practice is competitiveness. If a moment arises in class when she glances around and sees that others are doing a “deeper” version of the posture than she is doing, she feels competitive. I have a feeling that this is very common, even if we sublimate it in some way to keep it manageable for ourselves. I know in my own practice it took a very long time for me be able to celebrate the beauty in another’s posture, even if I might admire it, I didn’t necessarily celebrate it. If my yoga friends celebrated a postural accomplishment that I achieved, I denied it’s value in my practice. What my yoga friend is pointing to is not some egoic moral issue. It’s that one of the most precious fruits of yoga practice is the experience of connection we can experience when we practice together – even on Zoom, and that the very human tendency to compare ourselves to others interferes with that.
Some of you may have read that my wrist was smashed a few years ago. It’s fully functional, but I’m taking my time reclaiming the fullness of some of the postures I did. I do remember what they felt like…Urdhva Dhanurasana, for example, full wheel. As I draw up the kinesthetic memory, I recognize now what a celebration of life it was that I was able to experience that full opening spaciousness of the front and back of the body. I had a dream after the wrist smash that I would do that posture again. That inspires me. But I go one step at a time. The gift of that experience though, is that I can’t compete. I can’t even compare. The truth is, based on the degree of the smash, doing plank is a miracle. Side plank also a miracle. That I can participate in a live class of the nature that I always practiced is a miracle. With my previous accomplishments removed what remains in class is the sense of connection…unadulterated by the thoughts I had about the quality of my practice, good or bad.
A week ago I had my first experience of actually being deeply moved by a colleague’s accomplishment of physical grace. Instead of “I should be able to do that” – well, that thought was not relevant – I had a spontaneous “that is so cool”. And then, an interesting thing happened in my ability to see without comparison I could perceive my colleagues articulation of the posture differently, and as a result I began to understand that there was a small micro movement in my body which, at this moment in time, I wasn’t accessing. Sometimes, becoming aware of something you aren’t doing becomes the doorway into doing.
I was told once that the Buddha said that the final frontier to overcome in the mind is comparison. Think about it. He has this…she has that…I have this…she is this, she is that, I am this. It all points somehow to lack. That one or the other of us is missing something or one of us has something that we should be grasping for. This mode of thinking – it’s not bad or wrong – it just interferes with what is possible I ourselves and in our relationships. Yoga promises that we will come to know ourselves as whole through practice. If we know ourselves as whole, we know each other as whole and we experience the wholeness that is love itself. This is an experience worth practicing for.
Paradigm: From Merriam Webster: : a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated the Freudian paradigm of psychoanalysis broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind
In the course of my early yoga career I learned at least three different combinations of feet positions in Trikonasana. It seemed everyone was teaching something different. Couldn’t we all just settle on one right way? I pressed my mentors for an explanation and they allowed my frustrated questions to just fly past them. I determined which of those was “correct” and advocated it heartily. But as my journey continued I learned that various foot positions have their own logic within certain schools where they are taught. They are reflections of each yoga schools paradigm of the body. But the logic won’t necessarily hold in a school with a different paradigm.
There is the western science view of the body, the Indian view of the body (based on energy, tradition, or a particular lineage), there is the American pop culture point of view of the body (based on? who knows) or my mother’s point of view about the body. There is the Chinese medicine view of the body, the macrobiotic view of the body, the Barbara Brennan school view of the body. The surgical view of the body, the chiropractic view of the body. The variety is endless.
I had one client who made a clear decision with his wife that they were going to stick to the straight Western science understanding of the body in all circumstances and that would govern their decisions. It was a conscious choice. I had a bodywork teacher who used western scientific language to describe the nature of traditional energy medicine to his students – the resulting vision of the body and it’s place in the universe is deeply wise and well considered. When I began practicing, my body was this unruly thing that I wished was more elegant, more beautiful, more manageable, more comfortable and less of a bother – it was a paradigm of dislike. As I continued my practice that point of view transformed into understanding the body as a reflection of my emotional well being, and later still as a field of interwoven energies which could be used to heal. I now understand it as a manifestation within the vast field of consciousness and an opportunity to evolve.
It doesn’t really matter which point of view we take about the body when we practice, but it is important to explore what our point of view is when we are making choices about our practice. How are we relating to our bodies? From what point of view and why?
Yoga can work with all these differing paradigms, and it can be beneficial to explore how our experience changes with differing views. I encourage you to consider in your practice this week…how is it that I understand my body? Scientifically? Intuitively? Mechanically? Kinesthetically? Emotionally? Some combination? How do I experience it right now? How do I want to experience it moving forward? Notice when you are taking class what point of view the class is constructed from, and notice the nature of the result you get and how you feel.