I know there is controversy in the yoga world about photographing ourselves in postures and blasting them all over the internet.
Personally, I’m a fan.
After years of eating disorders, depression and strong patterns of fighting and forcing my body, followed by several more years of attentive, non-stop retraining of my mind and heart in order to learn to love my body, I now find viewing and sharing photographs of myself practicing yoga to be incredibly therapeutic.
I’m a studio owner with a practice of almost two decades. I know that it’s not about the poses and, as I teach my students, whether you can do a handstand in the middle of the room or not doesn’t ultimately determine your intimacy with yoga or even your ability to teach well.
Still, after a quick perusal of social media, it’s easy to feel down on myself for what my asana practice hasn’t yet offered me. I still prefer to invert with a wall close by. Every backbend I take requires mental preparation. My chaturanga (four limbed staff pose) is a 17-year-old work in constant progress.
At these times, I criticize myself for what I can’t yet do in my practice. And at other times, I am able to genuinely smile and laugh when I fall or when I fall short.
I have a bizarre and fond affection of photographing my practice specifically when it showcases the “falls short” like in this backbend.
The limitations of my shoulders, the space in my thoracic spine where I haven’t yet fully learned to open.
And what I love is, I see the picture and I feel warm and happy. Because I love the whole fucking process.
I love the mess of imperfection, the trial of striving toward something, the falling down, the crying, the getting back up again, the falling in love again, and then the ultimate peace with whatever is there. I love that I even have a living, pulsing, alive body that I can experiment with and use as a vehicle to learn from. This body is home for the wild exploration of the heart. I cherish it.
So when I see my fellow yoginis in an inverted, one-armed head-to-foot backbend on Instagram with over 1,000 likes, I have a choice. I can go to the place of comparison, jealously, despair, aggression, depression, force, etc. or I can do what I am learning to do: smile in sincere awe, use it as inspiration, and then sit with the sweetness of my very own body.
In these moments I think, “This is my real practice. This is the true work, the special invitation of a yoga practice.”
Instead of focusing on getting into that inversion with my head anywhere near my foot, I can put my attention toward accepting where I am in my practice, accepting the validity of being at that place.
My practice is no less than hers. My body is certainly no less than hers. My worth as a woman, a human, a yoga teacher, a studio owner, a teacher trainer is no less than hers.
My yoga practice reveals to me, again and again, that I have limits. This reassures me, again and again, that I don’t have to be so hard on myself. The thrill of being human is in the risk, the brazen appetite for being who we are and letting that bust out and shine forward, whatever shape that actually takes in the physical form.
So then I can celebrate every photo on Instagram. Mine, and hers. Both versions perfect. Both unique expressions of the same desire.
So then there is yoga—there is union.
There is connection and vulnerability and community. I become a sister to her as I let her shine her light and I shine mine too, without perceiving one physical shape as superior to another.
My body craves back bends; it craves the ride of opening up the underbelly of the body; it craves revealing and unleashing. And as years wash by, I notice my body is able to give a bit more, to bend a bit more, with still some degree of holding back, which I read as this very precious gift whispering to me, “You don’t have to do it all today. More is coming tomorrow.”
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Assistant Ed: Steph Richard/Ed: Bryonie Wise