Friday, September 28, 2012

Ego Yoga

One of the first places I went to on my quest to find the perfect yoga studio for me was a heated studio a little further away from home than I'd like to drive.

As I lay peacefully on my mat waiting for class to start, the entire front row of the room was actively engaged in challenging balance postures and inversions - everything from crane to handstand to some poses I've never seen before...
... before class had started, before any kind of warm up, before the instructor was even in the room. People are up on their arms and their heads with their legs wrapped around and folded into complicated whatchamacallits.

I was confused for a couple of reasons. First, don't you want to kind of warm up your body before you do something like that? Yes, the room is warm but that doesn't mean your leg is ready to be extended up over your shoulder like that, right?

And second, how much are these people practicing yoga and how much are they just showing off? Does the third girl from the left feel like she has to do side-crane pose to compete with the dude in handstand on the other side of the room?
It made me feel out of place - unwelcome in this hyper-advanced yogi-sphere. Sure, I can manage a few simple arm balances and inversions, and I am all about constant self improvement, but when I am balanced in crane pose, I am a) trying to meditate, b) focused on myself and not whether or not anyone else in class is more advanced than I am, and c) listening to my body. When you bust out a complicated balance pose before class has started, who are you balancing for?

When I chose my current yoga studio I felt it was a perfect balance for me - bringing the right kind and quantity of calmness of mind while still challenging me physically - but I can see how some might be discouraged by the environment. Some yogis may doubt that individuals in these classes are truly there to find peace and feel the meditation.

Is it on the instructors that these people flip themselves into scorpion or balance their legs over their shoulders like wings? We are encouraged throughout class to only take ourselves as far as the breath with let us - challenged to listen to all parts of our bodies. Just because your hamstrings allow you to stretch that far, doesn't mean your breath will. Simultaneously, we're encouraged to focus and challenge ourselves. We're given the opportunity to push our bodies to their limits, but I keep coming back to the question; how much listening to your body can you do if you're constantly pushing yourself to the next level? Are we asking "can I" instead of "should I"?

I don't know how many of my fellow yogis read this blog, but I am interested to know what y'all think. Is there an inherent contradiction between yoga and learning/mastering advanced balance postures? Or can we channel calmness of mind and body into scorpion pose?

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