I would pick up a yoga magazine, looking for new information and inspiration. I’d admire the cover model, gracefully posed with the most stylish, trendy outfit and a smile on her face, making it all look so easy.
I would flip open the magazine and see mostly women, in colorful, tight clothes, striking super-bendy poses, basking in the sunshine and couldn’t help but think “I want to look like that one day. If only I practice more, I could look like that too…”
Then, I’d sigh, as reality sunk in.
I knew I would have sharp pain in my knee if I bent it that way and that my hips and hamstrings just weren’t open enough to hold that pose before getting into pain and injury.
I would remember my body’s restrictions and my ego would try to convince me there was something wrong with me and my practice.
I would gaze at the goddess-like poses and start to beat myself up because I thought I would never have that epic, super-bendy picture of me on an exotic beach or mountaintop.
These photos made me think that I needed to show off how bendy I could be, even if it put me in pain, to prove I was a good enough yogi and teacher. “If only I could get my leg over my head…” I thought, spiraling down into self-loathing.
This was the vicious cycle that used to play out in my head, especially when I was overweight.
But… wait a minute… gazing upon all of these self-serving, egocentric yoga photos, I quickly come back to reality. I come back to what yoga means to me.
What yoga is not about
For me, yoga is not about a photo of me in a bikini, doing some crazy arm balance on an idyllic Costa Rican beach.
Yoga is about healing.
It’s about finding my way on my own path, about shedding a painful past and co-creating an abundant future.
Yoga is also about helping to transform lives
It’s about making personal connections with my students, and helping them find the path to their own healing.
Though I admire those with an advanced practice, I do realize that those advanced poses are not for the majority.
Major transformation can happen even in the simplest of poses, and even with physical limitations. I have experienced it with my own practice, and I witness it daily with my students.
Yoga is an inward journey
What matters in our practice is our dedication to journeying inward and discovering what we’re willing to face, what belief we’re ready to let go or change, and what we’re ready to release and move through.
True transformation comes from a willingness to go deeper, no matter what the starting or ending point.
My practice has taught me many things, two of which are acceptance and compassion; especially of who I am, exactly as I am, and for where I am.
Though at times I feel restricted in my body and mind, I remember that each of us is unique; no set of life circumstances or bodies are the same.
This is the body I live in.
This is the body I worked so hard to bring back to health.
Uniting acceptance and compassion with a mind-body connection rescued me from the dark depths of depression, anxiety, addiction and obesity, and brought me back from the brink of death.
Connecting to my breath and the life force that roars inside of me connects me to feeling.
I remember the hell my body had been through before I found yoga.
I ground myself in the present moment, cherishing how far I’ve come.
I accept that my body has limitations and also that it’s perfectly OK.
When I practice, this perfectly imperfect body guides me deeply to heal and forgive my almost unbelievable past.
I don’t need to put my leg behind my head to connect to myself.
Perhaps more importantly, I realize that, because of my skeletal and muscular structure, I may never get there. And that’s OK.
I don’t need to balance on my head in order to change my perspective to look within.
I don’t need the latest, greatest and most expensive yoga outfit to unite body, mind and spirit on my sacred inward journey.
Sure, part of me would love to be posed gracefully and stylishly, in the most advanced poses. Then I realize what matters more: that I am happy to keep practicing daily—even when I don’t want to—and to keep going deeper, no matter what it looks like.
I believe and teach my students that yoga is not supposed to be about what it looks like, but about how it feels. Sure, there is such a thing as proper alignment, but thinking that two bodies could look exactly alike is unrealistic.
I feel like this is the slippery slope that yoga magazines have us sliding down.
The message being sent to yogis everywhere is that this is yoga and this is what it should look like, and if you don’t look like this, you’re not doing it right.
Yoga is not about the exterior world
It’s our internal world where we find acceptance, peace and happiness.
In fact, caring about what the outside world thought was what led me to a life of depression, anxiety and despair in the first place.
What I wear doesn’t matter.
What I look like in the pose doesn’t matter.
What does matter is my ability to connect with my breath and journey to the internal wisdom of my heart, that guides me toward healing.