It occurred to me recently that I have not one picture of myself in a yoga pose.
Lately, I’ve been seeing beautiful photographs in my Facebook news feed of yogi friends perfecting perfect poses in amazing places—pigeon in the green grasslands, dancer in Times Square or handstand in the California mountains. I awe at all of them, taken in by the beauty of the posture and the splendor of the scenery.
So, why is it, after more than a decade of practice and most of those years spent teaching, have I been reluctant to photograph myself assuming an amazing pose?
I don’t have a dramatic answer other than that it simply hasn’t occurred to me.
When yoga studios ask for a picture and a bio, I provide a headshot. There my photo sits on the studio website, swimming in a sea of lotuses and warriors and Anjali mudras. Me and my unassuming mug surrounded by visual yoga amazingness.
For me, my practice is something that is more internal.
Yoga is my escape from the stress and chaos around me. As a self-professed stress junkie, it’s a much-needed practice in my life. I can easily turn into a type-A personality even though my nature is to be more type-B. It’s a constant back and forth that I battle daily.
I struggle with my perfectionist tendencies which, particularly as a mother, can easily stifle the happy moments in my life. It’s work for me to live organically, letting moments happen and to let go of control. Yoga helps me work through the urge to put everything in neat, tidy compartments and, instead, to enjoy life as it is.
I suppose this is why I’ve never assumed pincha mayurasana in an idyllic sunset-filled desert scene because I make efforts to stay away from such perfection. Instead, I keep my practice close to the vest, limiting my ability to put it in a tidy corner.
Which begs the question as to why I became a yoga teacher in the first place.
When I first started my teacher training, I had no intention of teaching. I went into the training to deepen my own practice. But, my mentor must have seen something else in me. The week I graduated, she called saying she had a job lined up for me. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat as I forced out a “yes” out of respect for her kindness.
She was right. And I’m forever grateful to her.
She saw what I couldn’t see in myself. As a type-A, a worker bee, a fall-over-myself-to-do-the-best-I-can person, I can relate to those students who are brought to the practice for similar reasons.
I wish I could be one of those love-and-light, it’s-all-good teachers who seem to glow in their own happiness.
But I am not.
I can laugh with the best of them, for sure, but I’m also driven by an intensity that, while vital in the business and academic world, doesn’t suit me in my personal life. Instead, it leaves me tired and anxious.
The reason I revisited my yoga practice 10 years ago was because I quickly found myself approaching burnout. I was way too hard on myself. I knew if I didn’t find a way to tame the fierceness with which I lived my life, I was going to end up exhausted with nothing left for me.
Enter yoga, and a solace that taught me to slow down.
Strangely, I didn’t meet yoga with the some fervor I do with most other things in my life. Somehow I shut off that perfectionist button and let my practice evolve, and, in the end, it evolved me.
I noticed recently, too, that my classes tend to draw like-minded type-A’s—the athletes, the driven professionals, the perfectionists—who want to be reminded that perfect doesn’t mean right, and when you drive fast, at some point, you have to stop.
I hope I’m able to provide them with the insight yoga has given me.
Maybe one day I’ll feel brave enough to present myself before the camera. It’ll be a day when my need to be happy overcomes my need to be perfect. I feel the day is around the corner; I can sense its closeness. Daily work and daily reminders inch me toward that comfort zone.
Until then, I’ll bask in my quiet practice—for it is this space that has given me so much growth and perspective…and a somewhat impressive pincha mayurasana.
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Ed: B. Bemel
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