When I ask students what they want to get from yoga, often the answer that comes back is, ‘I want to be good at it’. But what does it mean to be good at yoga?
Many students typically think being good at yoga means being able to do all of the postures (asanas) perfectly but this isn’t really what it’s about.
A student who can maintain AWARENESS throughout his/her practice is one who does yoga well. Or a student who can notice when his or her awareness slips and can gently guide it back, does yoga well. If you can perform an asana to 10 percent of its full range yet you perform that 10 percent with full awareness, you are getting the hang of yoga. When you practice SAFELY and with RESPECT for the needs of the body, you are mastering yoga.
So what is meant by AWARENESS? Awareness simply means applying your attention fully to what you are doing; finding a focus for your attention and simply OBSERVING your experience and being ‘present’ with it.
There are many focus points we can use to anchor our awareness during our practice. We can focus the attention of the physical movements of the body; we can focus on the breath; we can sense into subtle energetic sensations in the body; we can notice our mood or emotion; we can watch our thoughts.
Central to doing yoga well is an aim to observe our practice without any judgements or criticisms – or simply noticing when there are judgements and criticisms occurring within us. Judgements and criticisms might include thoughts like, ‘I should be able to do this’ or ‘I’m so inflexible’ or ‘Everybody else is better at this then I am’ or ‘I will never be able to do this’. Or they might even include thoughts like ‘I am better than everybody else at this’ or ‘This is way too easy for me’ or ‘I could do this with both eyes closed’. All these thoughts are the voice of the ego. The ego limits us to narrow experiences – it doesn’t allow us to open up and thrive.
Believing we can’t do something is a self-fulfilling prophecy – we stop trying, lose motivation, limit positive action and reinforce the belief. When we believe we can do everything and there is nothing more to learn, we close ourselves off to deeper experiences. There is always something to learn, something at which we can improve – if not a physical achievement then an emotional, mental or spiritual one.
Needing to be ‘good’ at yoga is an unhelpful judgement in itself. What is the concept of ‘good’ anyway? It’s just a social construct to which we’ve attributed all these ideas and meanings. Why not just ‘do’ yoga and allow the experience to be whatever it is? This is the gift of yoga – of developing awareness: the gift is the ability to let things be. If this is not the most potent survival tool for living, I don’t know what is.
(c) The Yoga Experiment, 2012