“As we begin this one hour asana practice, we focus on honoring and worshiping the temple that is our body,” I instruct.
This, I am pulling out of my ass.
As soon as the words leave my lips, I flinch. I have heard this exact cue time and time again. It is an echo of B.K.S. Iyengar’s philosophy: “Your body is a temple; keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.”
Now, I fully stand behind this ideal. Iyengar was channeling Patanjali, who was first to formally introduce the concept of a happy body nurturing and supporting a happy mind. Before Patanjali, the yogi often regarded their body as a cage. They resented the body for holding them back from true enlightenment. This resentment led to active denunciation of the body.
Patanjali maintained the focus of yoga on enlightenment, while adding elements of asana and consideration for our “physical vehicle.” He reasoned that well-being is a harmony between all physical and psychic forces. Thus, consideration and subsequent appreciation for the body were born. This has been adapted over thousands of years, and, for better or worse, comprises the Western appropriation of yoga.
We mistake being comfortable in our own skin for Samadhi, or inner bliss.
Rather than a happy body hosting a happy mind, we have misinterpreted Patanjali’s concept to a happy body equating to a happy mind. It is as if the prisoner has decided that his cell is a palace, regardless of what it contains. Have we merely skimmed the surface when we consider the environment in which our yoga has depended on for growth?
While there is great value in positive body image, we must go deeper and recognize that the Self we aspire to connect with is not simply our body. Iyengar and Patanjali instruct for a happy body, in order to host a happy mind. We must remember what a temple really is: a building that harbors worship inside. We do not feel moved spiritually or bow to archways and wooden doors. We must remember that what is sacred, what is honored and deserves worship, lies within.
In a society where everyone is a critic and nobody is a size 0, the mat is the one place we can approach ourselves—and our bodies—with genuine compassion and deep-seated acceptance.
“Know that the body is merely a garment; go seek the wearer, not the cloak.”
Maybe it’s time we start opening the doors to the immaculate love that lies beneath our skin; that we stop kissing the cobblestone that leads to the temple, and enter and explore the mind and spirit within. Iyengar writes, “Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind, and spirit. When one is free of physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul opens.” In this light, your firm arms and tricky inversion poses become simply a means to an end, rather than a source of pride.
Create more windows in your temple, so that the light within can shine out.
If this is too hard to do, and if you are hung up on the idea of your body being a temple, then remember this: nobody has ever stepped into a temple and thought that it could be skinnier, or taller or blonder. If they have any comment, it’s that there could be more light, or more music to fill the sacred space.
We must go deeper than our skin, as thick as it may be.
Andie Britton-Foster‘s father was a walnut and her mother was a sparrow. By sheer magic, she was born. She spends her summers planting forests and spends the rest of her seasons teaching yoga in Kingston, ON.
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Ed: K.Macku/Kate Bartolotta