After class this morning a student came up to me and said that after years of thinking the goal of yoga was to achieve really challenging poses she has finally realized that finding proper alignment and breath in the “simple” poses is far more satisfying and rewarding. She is not the first student to share this realization with me. And I too, after many years of practice, have realized it is far more rewarding to feel open and at ease with strong alignment in a pose I practice daily than to find one or two shallow breaths in my body as it shakes and wobbles to achieve a really challenging pose. This is not to say that it doesn’t feel great, or give the ego a nice pat on the back, to finally get into that inversion or arm balance that has felt illusive – it simply isn’t the point. Yoga isn’t about doing tricks, it is about becoming more aware, more tuned in to ourselves so that we may tune in and connect more deeply with others.
In yoga, as in life, it is rarely the huge and drastic changes that have lasting impact – it is the subtle, small shifts, practiced over and over again that have lasting and profound effects. When we practice being really aware we discover new things about ourselves. Finally becoming aware that the emotions and tensions from a stressful day at work are stored in the shoulders creates the opportunity to actually let that tension go. The ability to relax the shoulders in a very simple pose will bring a deeper level of satisfaction than finally holding that arm balance or headstand. Little adjustments to poses we do regularly, but perhaps may not be doing with proper alignment or great clarity, can often reveal far more about our habits and ways of being than achieving a new pose that challenges us.
Where do I physically hold my tension? Where do I physically hold my hurt? My anger? My joy? What happens when I open those places and let go of what I was holding on to? When do I struggle to breathe deeply? When am I able to breathe easily? When do I feel strong? When do I feel grounded? What makes me feel unstable? What makes me feel incapable? When do I give up? When do I push too hard? Where is the fine line of pushing myself while still listening to what my body, heart, and mind need? Tuning in and becoming aware, as opposed to pushing through pose after pose, gradually reveals the answers to these questions. Unveiling these truths not only deepens our yoga practices, it enhances our awareness of how we respond and react to different people and situations off of our mats as well. This awareness is what, over time, allows us to make those subtle and lasting shifts in our yoga practices and in our lives. So go for that pose that has been eluding you for years, push yourself to finally hold it for one breath, but don’t forget to pause and deeply explore every pose, every breath, and every moment on your mat. You never know what you will uncover.