Yoga is Never About the Shape You’re Making

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October 26, 2021

What comes to mind when you think of or hear the word ‘yoga’? 

I’m guessing you’ve come across yoga in the media. Maybe you’ve seen a magazine cover while waiting in line at the grocery store. Or maybe you follow a yoga influencer on Instagram who posts drills on how to achieve the highly-coveted vertical handstand. Maybe you’ve taken a yoga class or two at your local gym or yoga studio. And then there’s the quintessential lotus pose that I bet we’re all familiar with.

The general population’s preconceived notions of what yoga is are based on the media they consume or are exposed to. In general, they only see one facet of yoga otherwise known as asana. Asana is considered the gateway (kinda like bacon for vegetarians) to all eight limbs of yoga — yes, eight! (We won’t cover all eight today.)

Asana means pose or position. The all too common physical practice coined as ‘yoga’ in the West is a set of asanas strung together in phases to create a class (centering, warm-up, waves/series, balancing, floor, closing). Another way to look at this is through surya namaskar (also known as sun salutations). We’ll look at surya namaskar A, which is made up of 12 poses: mountain, upward salute, standing forward fold, half lift, plank, four-limbed staff, upward facing dog, downward-facing dog, standing forward fold, half lift, upward salute, mountain. If you’ve ever taken a vinyasa class, you’ve been led through a similar series of postures multiple times throughout the class.

Four things that are more important than nailing these 12 postures or making an idealized shape with your body are:

  1. Listening and trusting the feedback your body is offering by not pushing beyond your edge towards potential injury (avoid letting the ego drive your decisions)

  2. Cultivating awareness while on your mat to notice what bubbles up within your internal landscape (also known as interoception)

  3. Choosing how you respond to the insights you just observed (does the ego win or do you listen to your inner teacher — we each have one)

  4. Taking action based on your decision that supports your highest best Self

These four things are the foundation of why the physical practice leads to transformation on and off of your yoga mat (plus the physiological benefits of connecting the breath with movement). 

Unfortunately, many of us get caught up on step 1 and never make our way to the remaining three. Understanding where you’re at is powerful information because it will influence what you do next: continue pushing beyond your limits to create a shape that’s not accessible in your body right now or use the experience to learn, grow, and adapt.