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So often, the mind’s tendency to swing from one extreme to another pulls us along for the ride, and keeps us away from the sweet spot of true enjoyment.
We have developed an in-built extremism when it comes to our reasons for doing or not doing, just about anything. In this all or nothing mindset, we feel that we need to become the best in the field, or we won't even go to the first class!
This is a very common symptom of our modern culture, where every pathway leads to finding your true talent, or building a career on something you’re interested in. It’s also just as easy to be put off trying something new, as it is to be inspired by others who are doing it already - especially when they’re doing it very well. As we witness others exploring their interests before our eyes online and through social media, the sheer number of accounts we can follow causes a subtle but very strong sense of attachment - I must have that for myself, and aversion - turning away completely.
In this post, I will relate how swinging from one extreme to another, creating love/hate relationships exemplifies attachment and aversion, which are mentioned in Yoga philosophy through the 5 Kleshas - causes of suffering, which are obstacles to Self-Realisation and the experience of wholeness. The more we follow the tendency to be pulled towards one extreme or another, especially in our lifestyle choices, we begin to limit our natural ability to learn and grow.
Let’s use yoga as an example. While we always want newcomers to yoga, the most common response to a casual yoga invite is, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that, I’m not flexible!’ Most people are afraid that you need to be able to do advanced postures already, or have the desire to become very flexible in order to practice yoga.
Of course, we yoga teachers repeat the cliche, 'Nonsense, that’s like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath!’ Which essentially means, ‘Relax, we’re all here to learn. You’ll be surprised at what your body can do when you start moving.’
Being too concerned with physical ability in yoga highlights the image conscious, fitness culture we have ingrained within us. Images we see make us decide whether or not we can (or feel allowed to) participate in a certain activities. Expectations about ‘what it takes,’ and ‘who I need to be in order to do something’ is what keeps us AWAY from so many of the most enjoyable activities available to us. These preconceived notions leave us with little room for play or experimentation, and it can take years to find an avenue into a life path or hobby we’ve always dreamed of pursuing.
When we are unable to move beyond the fear of being a beginner, making a mistake, looking silly or failing, we give up before making the first move! Aversion to yoga becomes established in those who think that the following are necessary to get into yoga, which they are not interested in doing:
These beliefs make them more likely to turn away from yoga and things associated with a yogic lifestyle.
Many people will criticise a new habit, activity, or hobby that they feel is out of reach for them. Aversion - a strong dislike, or disinclination towards something is not always wrong, however. Often it is a signpost that needs to be noted and moved past, or explored and seen as a message to listen more deeply to what we are being called to learn about ourselves.
Know someone that absolutely hates the ‘yoga lifestyle’? Although yoga may be beneficial for them in many ways, the notion they have about what it involves, what is expected, or needed from them in order to participate does not resonate with who they think/feel they are.
To explore these boundaries, you can ask: What turns you off about the practice? Are you interested in certain aspects of yoga, and less so in others? Identify the elements that definitely do not speak to you, then identify the elements that do.
Often, when yoga has been integrated into one’s lifestyle, it’s easier to explain the many ways that yogic practices can be used to help others without causing fear, defensiveness, or judgment. We can find common topics no matter what others are interested in, which starts to soften the barrier from strict aversion, to feeling more comfortable talking and learning about the subject.
What if we could be more curious and playful about trying new things rather than seeing a gap, a separation between ourselves and others?
On the other side of the mind, many people are very inspired by images of advanced yoga postures. They receive amazing benefits of feeling more mobility, increased energy, mental clarity, better health and wellbeing through their practice, so it is very easy to become attached to progress and results.
Attachment can arise in a person when they perceive yoga to be all about pushing and progressing to advanced asana, and constantly doing more to make progress - those who want to be the person in the picture living the perfect ‘yogi life.’
There are many who train regularly, allowing deep devotion to practice help their body unfold over time. In fact, this is one way that many picture-perfect advanced-asana yogis have mastered the postures and philosophy of yoga in their lives.
However, we must create realistic expectations for how the postures we see online are achieved. What many newcomers are not aware of is that many modern yogis (in pictures) have been dancers, gymnasts, even yoga practitioners since childhood. As beautiful and skilful these bodies are (and recognising the amount of strength and flexibility training needed to sustain those abilities) for the average modern yogi, or newcomer, these can be extreme comparisons to make and can create false ideals.
Not achieving a specific posture does not make you a non-yogi, and achieving a certain posture doesn’t make you more yogi. I will explore much of my own philosophy on what makes a yogi or not in future posts, but for now, let’s clarify the intention required from those who want to look ‘picture perfect’ in asana.
If going 'all in’ is what you’re after, and flexibility training is new for you, be aware that it will be required to do extra work beyond regular studio classes to help get you into the picture perfect poses you’re aiming for.
If you have started your yoga journey, and feel the drive to dedicate to your practice on a more physically ‘extreme’ level, taking it seriously like a keen spiritual athlete, remember to keep your mind and ego in check so you can progress in a natural, safe, and effective way. Learn about your body’s tight or problematic areas, giving yourself time and patience to educate yourself about what you are working on.
Especially as we get older (and perhaps begin to stretch this way later in life) imagine your practice more like an overall juicy cleanse for the system, pumping blood and fresh healthy cells to every part of the body for energy and freer movement. It takes time to reverse many holding patterns that have been established over time, so wrenching stiff parts of the body will often end up in injury.
Developing an unhealthy attachment to a rigourous practice can cause backlash effects that ultimately slow your overall progress. From injury, stress tension, frustration, anger, and comparison to others, there are many common pitfalls on the modern yogic path, especially when it comes to asana-attachment.
When your yoga practice (or any physical practice) becomes put on hold for healing from injury, it is often noted that finding balance between the physical and spiritual/philosophical aspects of yoga is the remedy. Bringing awareness of inspiring wisdom into your daily life, and incorporating breath work into your practice helps to realign your intentions for why you practice yoga in the first place, and soften the pull of attachment.
Can you recognise the feeling of fullness and connection from a less driven yoga practice?
When the ego is removed from the efforts you make, and you relinquish the need for results, you allow yourself to bring grace and gratitude to your movements, and the body naturally starts to open and unlock your range of movement.
Working closely with an experienced yoga teacher helps you maintain a healthy relationship to your practice. You can choose to advance towards more challenging postures in a way that is safe and lasting, or enjoy the bliss of a more moderate physical practice. Your body’s needs and abilities will always change, so it is important to stay in-tune to what feels appropriate at any given time.
When you see the see-saw of the mind making you run away from new things that scare you, or make you feel uncomfortable, or run full-force ahead pushing beyond your limits with no regard to pacing yourself or following your own path, feeling critical of yourself for not being better - just pause. Try to soften the edges and explore your intentions.
Do those intentions feel aligned with your highest purpose?
Does it feel joyful?
Before you jump to extremes, bailing out, or beating yourself to the top, give yourself permission to take the first step in the direction that calls to you. No matter what you are looking to bring into your yoga practice, or receive from it, you can find the perfect balance for yourself at any stage. It’s a matter of attention and intention.
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