A couple of weeks ago, in what turned out to be a private lesson for the one woman who showed up, (If you need/want smaller classes and lots of personal attention, this is the time of the year for it! Come on down!) working with her for a few minutes on her seated twist, trying to get the pose to a place where she wasn’t hurting her body, and ending up with her body in a very non-traditional-looking position, she said, “It doesn’t look like the picture in the yoga journal.” I said, “Thank you. That’s the subject of my next blog.” (She was already the inspiration for the “Put It in Your Calendar” blog a few weeks ago!)
This young woman has a notably strong AND flexible body, a rare combination. She also has a good bit of yoga practice and experience, including going through Go Deep, my yoga teacher training and deeper studies course, a couple years ago. A very flexible (read “mobile”) body tends to be more prone to injury than does a strong (read “stable”) one, and she has to be careful about a couple of places in her body. (Maybe you do, too? Does anyone reading this NOT have to be careful of some part[s] of your body???) This woman, I think, could easily be a model for Yoga Journal. Her poses and her body can fit that “mold.” BUT, and here’s the “Big But” (as per Pee Wee Herman), BUT some of that “posing” would be injurious to her body. (I have first- and second-hand info that, at least some years ago, the people on the cover of Yoga Journal generally injured themselves during the photography, doing extreme yoga poses in a cold photo studio. It didn’t surprise me at the time to hear that. Of course they also doctor the photos, too.)
I resonate with this woman because at her age, I was the same in some ways. I had come to yoga “naturally” very flexible (read “mobile”) and not very strong, and by her age, I was also pretty strong. I could do wild poses…AND I regularly injured my body, a number of times pretty intensely. Over years of practice coupled with aging, I learned not to injure my body in yoga so much, which in general has them be less “extreme.” My poses, once so “Yoga Journal-worthy” (Ha! Funny to write that.) are not so much anymore. However, in my (ego) mind, they are MORE “Yoga Journal-worthy” for what’s happening on the inside: more sensitive, less harmful, and less pushing toward some imagined goal. Sadly, those shifts are not so able to be photographed and the resulting poses don’t fit the popular norms of yoga beauty. I think this is what this woman was commenting on: It didn’t look like the Yoga Journal picture, but it did feel a lot better in her body. Which would YOU choose, if you could only have one of those? Do you want to look good, or right or impressive, or feel happy in your skin? This question highlights is why I chose the (sensationalist) title of this article as I did.
If the yoga magazine is printing amazing or outrageous pictures of people in yoga poses (the same applies if it’s big-name yoga teachers on Instagram, YouTube, etc.), they are giving the impression that this is how the pose is SUPPOSED to be, and if you’re not doing it that way, you’re not doing it right or good enough. (I’ve mentioned this before, but note that the 908 Yoga Pose poster is in the RESTROOM at Loving Kindness, NOT in the main studio room.) Though I did choose the title of this article, of course, that’s not really the main gist of this article. Honestly, though, I do think burning your Yoga Journal, or better, just letting your subscription lapse, is a good idea. Though there tends to be one worthwhile article in the whole magazine, in my experience, my yoga study time is much better spent reading yoga books, which actually helps take the teachings deeper, minus all the advertisements. (If you prefer a periodical, Yoga International is better anyway, though now it’s only online.)
(Full-disclosure: I do still see in my mind sometimes, the thought that some of “my” poses are not as they’re “supposed to be.” Just in case you might have thought that I was “done” or had “mastered” yoga. I don’t blame anyone for that, but I just see it as where “I’m” still stuck in thinking. Also, I received no money from Yoga International for that mention above.)
When I receive teachings from a teacher, as long as I don’t have a moral disagreement with it, as long as it doesn’t seem hurtful or inconsistent with other “big picture” teachings that I have received, and as long as it seems logical and compatible with my own previous and current experience, then I will follow and practice the teaching as given and without question to the best of my ability, long enough to see for myself some results and then to know how or whether to continue to apply it in my practice ongoingly. This has been how “Ti” yoga has evolved over the decades. If we start with “chucking” the teachings or guidance, then we will stay “lost,” we won’t evolve and grow and will just remain in the prison of our own likes and dislikes.
Books, yoga magazines, teachers (including me!) obviously, have a place. I think of them as a good, important and necessary start but definitely not as an ending point: a place to begin and to learn and to practice from, partly in order to find places inside that we wouldn’t find if we were just staying in our “normal” and predictable and known. They are not a place to stop, however. Of primary and ultimate importance is not, to me, following the rules, (obviously, if you know me at all) i.e. doing what the teacher/writer/picture says, though that, too has an important place. What we should be most concerned with is that we are being very conscious of the feedback we are getting from our own body/inner being as a result of WHATEVER we are doing, on the mat or otherwise. That’s the Goal, at least one of them, of the physical practice, not simply completing some predetermined (read “imagined!”) posture and alignment. This Goal isespecially true if the predetermined (even “traditional” or “required”) alignment and guidance is hurting our body/inner being, as it was in the case for the woman mentioned above, and certainly has, as I mentioned, been the case for me many times over the years. (Ego hurting is another thing that I am not addressing here. Maybe another time.)
If we can explore/work/play from the actual in-the-body experience and feedback we are getting and less from what we remember from the book or teacher, at least ultimately or at some point, then we have the possibility of our Yoga and the Inner Energy/Consciousness coming Alive for us, not just coming from the dead past i.e. coming what we remembered or what we learned previously. Living Yoga, with “Living” here being both a verb and and adjective, can then be a reality for us as we move forward in our lives. Let’s take the teachings we have been given, from whatever source, and PRACTICE them but also be careful to free ourselves from any bondage we may be subjecting ourselves to, whether bondage from the “outside” or from the “inside.”