Today at the end of a yoga class, I had a conversation with a woman who was struggling with what she “should” be able to do and what she can actually do while trying not to hurt herself. How many times do we live by “should?”
During these intense energies of summer 2017 it would behoove us let go of as much strain as possible and drop into regrouping mode.
Like anything, yoga can be used in many different ways. It is multipurpose and can be helpful at any stage of life. The critical factor is in deciding how to practice. Yoga teachers may speak to ‘honoring the body’, ‘paying attention to the body’, ‘noticing what the body is telling you’. But what does that really mean? When is it important? What if you don’t?
It is easy to fall into an egoic yoga practice; perhaps one that is focused on making the body look a certain way or fit into asana in a particular way. You aren’t the only yogi to find appeal in pushing the body to its limit or trying to live up to self-expectations. Trying to escape ego is like trying to escape a shadow. Even Buddha spoke about ego after enlightenment. It never goes away, but you begin to see through it, see it for what it is, and let it play less of a role. Until then, though, ego is a master of disguise. It will sound like every voice of reason or justifiable explanation; the mental sound bites that seem so authoritative. So don’t give yourself a hard time. Your ego is incredibly difficult to side step.
Years ago, near Santa Cruz, California, a member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang started a fight with a tourist that turned into a melee. Asked what had happened to trigger his wrath, the biker declared, “He touched my bike. Man, you touch my bike, you touch me.” This may seem like an extreme example of what the yogic texts call identifying the self with its limiting adjuncts, but it’s not so different from what we so-called rational people do.
You may not be so completely identified with your bike or other possessions but perhaps you identify with your thoughts, opinions, feelings, your social skills or coolness. Maybe you identify with the kinds of activities you do or the intensity of the activities you are able to do or even what you think you can’t do. These are all labels we put on ourselves. Maybe you wouldn’t be driven to hurt someone over your ego, but maybe, without realizing it you are missing one of the greatest opportunities yoga can offer you. The opportunity to set ego aside and really tune in.
Being gentle with yourself through gentle yoga is one of the most critical yoga practices that few yogis take time for. It is the balance for an active life and active practice. The body and mind need time away from the crazy swings of our busy lives; need quiet, settled time (aside from the hours each day that you sleep). It is an opportunity to give yourself balance and compassion, even if your ego is saying that you need activity.
Pregnancy may be one of the most important times in a women’s life to practice a less ego driven yoga. The ego can give a lot of pressure to ‘stay fit’ or ‘lose baby weight’ or to keep doing everything she used to do. But is this what’s best for her body? Only she knows, but is she listening to ego and social pressure or her body? A skilled prenatal yoga teacher works to connect pregnant students with their bodies and with their unborn child, to tune in to mental and physical needs.
In the end it is all about “coming home” to our bodies. We won’t have peace in our world until there is peace within ourselves.