The Myth of Yoga Body

Most of the Yoga teachers make their students believe that the Yoga Body, the bendy body, is something to achieve, something that one can sculpt through perseverance, through a strong, devoted, daily practice. They are genuinely convinced that whether you’re tall and lanky or short and sturdy and whatever your torso to limbs proportion are, you can and should do asanas in one specific way, usually exactly in the same way as the guru/ founder of the particular style.

Pattabhi Jois  in lotus- a pose inaccessible for many yet essential in Astanga sequence

Pattabhi Jois  in lotus- a pose inaccessible for many yet essential in Astanga sequence

There are serious consequences of that uniform approach. First of all, anyone who fails to ‘progress’ in the expected way feels inadequate and usually quits Yoga, feeling ashamed, disappointed or defeated. I’m guilty of following that style of teaching for years. I’ve refused to notice that it was always the fit an flexible people or the people who have experienced a visible increase in their range of movement throughout the course that were signing up for the next term. Most of the ‘stiff as as a board’ ones would never come back, often dropping out after just one or two classes.

Yoga isn’t about reaching to one’s toes yet often people who don’t see increase in flexibility quit yoga

Yoga isn’t about reaching to one’s toes yet often people who don’t see increase in flexibility quit yoga

No matter what yoga teachers and gurus preach, you cannot trick or ignore your own biological make-up. If your breast or abdomen or particularly fleshy calves get in the way when you do Yoga, you cannot make them magically disappear. What you can do is to work your way around the obstacle, accommodating the classical version of a particular asana in the way which suits your body. For example, if your belly prevents you getting deeper in forward fold, all you need to do is to keep the legs apart. Simple, isn’t it? The problem is that for the majority of teachers nowadays it’s more important to follow the ‘proper alignment’ rather than do something that would make student’s practice more sensible and beneficial.

 a few examples of variation in shapes/sizes of bones 

 a few examples of variation in shapes/sizes of bones 

Our uniqueness goes far beyond what can be seen with a naked eye. There is a surprisingly huge variation in the way human skeleton could look like. Some people might miss a particular bone or muscle, while some might have an extra one. The shapes of the bones and their particular location in relation to one another vary enormously. The familiar plastic skeleton from the anatomy classes is just an example, an average. The problem is, nobody in real life is average. Everybody is unique.

Following the alignment cues designed by and for young Indian males might bring disastrous effects for somebody who clearly is built very differently from that ‘ideal’. Yoga is a powerful practice, capable of changing soft tissues- muscles, fascia and even to some extent joint capsules and ligaments. However, as the common sense dictates, bones are not pliable. Trying to push beyond the skeletal restrictions is not only completely futile but also can be dangerous. There will be always a few people in each yoga class for whom some poses will be inaccessible regardless of time and effort spent working on them.

Most of the yoga poses were created by and for Indian men

Most of the yoga poses were created by and for Indian men

Far too often yoga students are so fixated on attaining an aesthetically pleasing, ‘correct’ pose, that they barely pay attention to what happens to the body in the process of getting there. Doing an asana ‘correctly’, even if that means losing breath and clenching the teeth with effort, often matters for yogis more than paying close attention to the sensations within. Shifting the focus to just being present could completely transform the practice, making it not only far less frustrating and enjoyable, but most of all more beneficial.

Unfortunately, slow and gentle Yoga doesn’t really appeal to most practitioners and it’s easy to understand why. It doesn’t bring the same satisfaction, it doesn’t feed the ego with the feeling of accomplishment and success. As everywhere else in life, people search for a thrill, for an adventure or at least for a reward and if they can’t find it, they quickly lose interest. Yogis used to progressive style of teaching often choose a particular pose to become their ultimate goal. They might work on ‘nailing’ that pose for months, even years. What happens when that goal is finally achieved? Absolutely nothing. Apart from fleeting moment of pride or joy, standing on the head or coming to a full wheel doesn’t change absolutely anything, either in or out of the yoga studio.

There is nothing special in headstand yet this pose is often considered better than others

There is nothing special in headstand yet this pose is often considered better than others

We should look very closely at our reasons for doing Yoga and the way we practice. It’s time for more embodied and mindful practice, where we truly pay attention to and honour our bodies, even if that means contradicting teacher’s guidelines. Let’s stop doing Yoga against or despite our bodies but be fully with harmony with our bodies, unafraid and unashamed to do any adjustments that the bodies crave for. Only by being fully present and by accepting the reality of our anatomy can we truly experience Yoga benefits.

PS. If you’d like to explore the topic of how individual anatomy affects Yoga practice, I recommend wholeheartedly ‘Your Yoga.Your Body’ by Bernie Clark. It’s very detailed and very anatomically-oriented but would certainly bring lots of A-HA moments.

This post was originally published on https://padmakshidiary.wordpress.com/ on 07/10/2016