Analytics Tracker

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Asana and Morality: Some random thoughts

While I am a big fan of the more spiritual elements of yoga there's no denying that they can really muddy the waters of what yoga is and is not. Ostensibly, we practice yoga in order to become more aligned both physically and mentally so that we can be better citizens of the world. Practicing the asanas bring out body into alignment, while the yamas (ethical conduct) and the niyamas (morality) instruct us on basically, how to be better people. Because yoga has such a strong moral and self-exploratory element, there can sometimes develop a tendency to equate advanced asana with advanced morality.

Being able to do scorpion pose does not mean that person is "better" at yoga than someone who can't perform that pose. Putting your leg behind your head does not make you more enlightened. Sometimes, people doing asana aren't really even doing yoga - they're doing gymnastics. I don't mean that to sound overly critical but it's true. As with really anything in life, yoga is about the journey, not about the destination. Take me as an example - I have really tight hamstrings, and I've come to terms with the fact that it will probably be a really, really long time (if ever) before I can hang out in full hanumanasana. This used to really frustrate me, but now I've made peace with it because I realize it's not about the final form - it's about all of the actions you take to get there. I just have to keep doing the actions, and the form might come or it might not but in the end, it really doesn't matter.

I digress.

So tonight I was in a class that had a fairly wide range of skill levels, at a studio where honestly ego can sometimes be a bit of a problem. Like, people always wanting to show how 'good' they are at yoga and how many advanced poses they can do. You just have to kind of tune it out and do your thing. Anyway, this time an odd thing happened where when we came to a more advanced posture, the instructor would immediately counter the cue for the posture with "only do this if it is what your body is calling you to do, don't let yourself be driven by your ego." I'm sure this wasn't intended, but the undertone I read from that was: But suddenly it's like "well, I'm going to cue this pose but then imply that actually doing it is show-offy and unyogic so, you know, it's up to you."

I was like...OK... I get what she was trying to say and her heart was in the right place. Yoga is about your intention, absolutely, but the way this was worded was more confusing than helpful. Instead of feeling pressured to do the poses, I now felt pressured NOT to do them, like if I moved into bird of paradise it was obviously because I was some ego-driven maniac. The thing is, bound revolved half-moon, revolved bird of paradise and bird of paradise are really difficult poses for me. My body NEVER 'calls me' to do bird of paradise. But I like to work on those poses whenever they come up, so I can (as the wise and lovely Christina Sell would say) "put a deposit in the bank" and work towards improving my pose.

Again, I totally understand what she was getting at but if you imply that doing an advanced pos is ego-driven you're still ascribing morality to asana, you just did a 180. Now you're just judging people for doing advanced poses instead of not doing them. Those silly egomaniacs and their scorpion poses.

I'm not trying to get on my soapbox I just think it's an interesting conversation. Because morality and yoga are so intertwinted, how do we...unintertwine? disentwine?... the poses from morality without going too far the other way? The practice of asana is about intention and alignment, not form. It's simple to say that, but it's a sticky wicket to teach it without accidentally placing moral judgement somewhere else that it doesn't belong.  These are the things I think about late on Sunday night when I should already be asleep. Nerdy yoga things.

Sweet dreams folks. Back in a couple days with more London adventures!


  1. i just learned a lot about yoga through your post! i'm often very competitive and i get totally frustrated if i can't get deeper or do a pose. it kinda defeats the entire purpose of the practice right? i think i should probably try to be more patient with myself overall and my yoga practice would definitely benefit!

    1. Hey, well I'm glad someone enjoys my late night rambling nonsense! I tend to get really competitive too, especially with myself and what I think I should be able to accomplish vs. what I actually can accomplish. Yoga has definitely taught me how to tone that down and be more accepting of my limitations.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...