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Thursday, Mar 15, 2012 Yoga is NOT a competition

Well, technically yoga IS a competition if you’re entering the National Yoga Asana Championship or you are one of the people campaigning to make yoga an Olympic event. However, competitiveness is the antithesis of traditional yoga.

Yoga is all about being in the moment and doing just what you can do right now. Marydale is always telling her students: “Go to your edge, but never to pain.” She encourages us to close our eyes, focusing only on the body and breath, and to go at our own pace.

There is a full wall of mirrors in our yoga studio, but we usually face away from it during class. Mirrors encourage comparison with others and criticism of ourselves, when we should really be focusing within on how the position feels, making adjustments accordingly. Some students are aware that they should not compare themselves to others in class, since everyone has a different body and is at a different place on their yoga journey, but we are often competitive with ourselves.

I am not very flexible and had hoped that I would become more flexible with yoga. I know that yoga is not goal-oriented or a competition, but after more than a year of going to class three times per week, I find myself constantly taking stock. When I began, I couldn’t touch my toes. I would bend at the waist and reach down as far as I could before the pain in my tight-as-a-drum hamstrings stopped me with my fingers about a foot from the ground. Now, by the end of a vigorous yoga class, I can get those fingers almost an inch from my toes. This should thrill me, but I feel like it’s not good enough.

Recently, we were doing a position in class that is very difficult for me. My body simply won’t move that way. Whenever we do it, I struggle to get into the position as best I can, remembering intermittently to breathe, then remain in my awkward version of the pose for as long as I can, hoping that nobody is looking at me. I brought this up to Marydale at the end of class, wondering about the purpose of struggling to get into this pose when I am clearly not achieving the intended benefit.

This led to the familiar discussion of how yoga meets you where you are and how even the most advanced yogis have days when they are less flexible than others. But Marydale expanded on this to say that true yoga was originally intended to be taught one-on-one, directly from teacher to student. This way, yoga can be perfectly tailored to your body, your needs, and your limitations. Since, for most people, individual yoga classes are expensive and impractical, we usually find ourselves in a group class. The takeaway: do what feels right to you.

I have a long torso and short legs. As a result, I can’t even do child pose—a pose so simple, yes, even a child can do it. If I were to assume this pose “correctly”, I would topple forward onto my face. So, I modify it. While the majority of students rest in the pose with their arms at their sides, I support my forehead on my stacked, closed fists. There are endless modifications that can be made, but if a pose is simply beyond your capability, choose another pose. Better yet, ask the teacher for a modification or a comparable pose. Speak up for yourself. Marydale likes to say, “This is YOUR yoga.” Make it yours and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks, least of all that little voice of self-criticism that says you’re not doing it right.

Instead, I hear Marydale’s voice like a mantra: “Stay in the moment. Close your eyes. Breathe. Feel the position. Move at your own pace. Go to your edge, but never to pain.” And, more importantly, “Why are we smiling? Because we LOVE OUR YOGA!”

posted by Kirsten K.