As both a teacher and student, I often hear people criticize their yoga practice.
On any given day upon exiting the studio, it is not uncommon to hear: “Wow. I sucked today during Primary Series!”, “If only I had more time to spend to this pose or that pose!”, “My balance is terrible!”
The truth is, if you have been practicing for any length of time, chances are you’ll probably find yourself engaging in this sort of criticism as well. I confess that I do it all the time or at least far more than I want to.
The fact is, though, that while some self criticism is good, too much can be bad. At the very least, it can cause us to ignore the positives and focus only on the negatives. At the worst, it can cause us to chase after something we are never going to get. It’s possible to start to believe that “if only” we had more time, dedication, flexibility, etc., then we could achieve the “perfect practice” and then possibly, the other pieces of our lives would fall together.
Simply put, that just isn’t going to happen, even if we do one day achieve that elusive goal.
The mere fact that you are carving time out of your life to devote to practice is the clearest indication that your practice is fine just the way it is.
At the risk of sounding like broken records, yoga teachers often say that yoga is not about the poses. The reason we say this is because it is true. As I often tell my students, if you come to my class and never leave the easy seated pose, yet are able to still your mind even for a minute or two, then you are doing yoga.
Of course, some cynics or realists, depending on one’s point of view, will say that the reason they come to class is to move and stretch.
In the three years I have been teaching yoga (and have taught students ranging in age from 6 to 80), I have yet to meet one who could not do some type of asana. Of course, many have had to modify, but as I tell them, so what?
The truth is, the yoga poses we practice are not set in stone. If we don’t assume the poses exactly like the models in Yoga Journal or the latest yoga celebrity’s DVD, nothing bad happens to us. I sometimes remind my students that there is no yoga police to come and take them away if they happen to do it “wrong” or heaven forbid, fall out of a pose.
It’s a way to add humor, but it is also true.
The fact is, after having studied with many yoga instructors both famous and non-famous, my harshest critic has always been myself. I’ve never once had a teacher shame me or tell me I was terrible. Like the vast majority of my fears, nearly all of them, when they came to yoga, have been of my own making.
Of course, it is impossible for many of us to silence that inner critic for good, but one thing that I have found helpful is to try to go several sessions and not criticize my practice.
If I find myself complaining about something I did wrong, then I immediately try to think of something I did right. Anyone can do this, and it is an especially great way to reignite that spark for yoga if, like me, you happen to lose it from time to time because you are dwelling on all the things you cannot do.
In any case, perhaps learning to see and accept our practice as fine just the way it currently is can lead to better acceptance of the way we are right now, as human beings. It may not lead to total self-acceptance, but it’s worth a try.
After all, what do any of us have to lose by cutting ourselves a little slack?
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Editor: Catherine Monkman