A recent article in Yoga Journal, written by the talented Kino MacGregor, has launched discussion around the idea of cheating—cheating in a pose specifically—in the yoga community as of late.
I’ve seen a number of blogs on the topic and I’ve read a few articles where-in the difference between a cheat pose and a real pose are now being carefully distinguished.
Wednesday morning, my ashtanga teacher dropped the word “cheat” to describe a different way to get into a pose. When did variations or modifications become cheating?
Coming from the world of heated power vinyasa (I’m new to the world of ashtanga), the idea of cheating in a yoga practice is new for me.
In vinyasa, there is certainly an ideal to strive for in each pose, however, the expectation is that most students will be some distance away from that ideal depending on their abilities that day. Even students who can squirm and squeeze their way into the ideal are generally encouraged to find a version of the pose that possesses more sukham (ease) and can be better sustained.
So, what really constitutes cheating in a yoga practice?
To address the idea of cheating, I feel like we have to really get clear on what it means to cheat in yoga. From what I’ve read—mostly the opinions of others—cheating is not striving for, in all earnest, the ideal version of a pose.
Anytime a conversation about the ideal or right way to execute a pose comes up, I feel compelled to reference the yoga sutras where I am reminded that, when it comes to asana, Patanjali left us with very little to go off of in the way of guidance. For sure, there have been a number of masterful asana teachers along the way who have shaped our ideals around the postures, but one has to wonder how the very first asana teacher(s) happened upon what we now consider traditional/standard postures.
I have to imagine that it all started with a self-aware individual playing around with body movements to help him better sit for meditation. So, when I think back to the origins of physical asana, I feel there is something destructive about the idea of cheating (as defined above).
Cheating leaves no room for play.
Cheating leaves no room for evolution or change.
Cheating leaves no room for invention or creation or intuition.
Cheating leaves no room for what you need that day outside of the prescribed ideal.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love structure. If I could plan everything out, predict everything and micromanage every aspect of my life, I’d do it in a heart beat. But there’s no joy, or wisdom or, god-forbid, fun in structure alone.
I spent a lot of my life living up to standards and doing exactly what other people told me to do—parents, teachers, coaches—and, while I ended up with a lot of admirable qualities from that structure, I lost myself.
To me, that’s the cheating.
To not honor your interpretation, your creativity, your expression or your voice is cheating.
To hand over all the decision-making to a man—living decades, hundreds or even thousands of years ago (during a time, in some cases, where women were not allowed to practice and, therefore, were not considered in the construction of the postures and sequence)—is cheating.
Its cheating because it’s easy. It’s easier to have someone tell you what to do and then just follow orders. There’s no self-inquiry or soul-searching involved in following orders.
There is absolutely a standard and a need for a standard in a yoga practice, but there is a lot of room to play, discover and cheat so that you can feel and understand the reason why the standard exists.
So, while I don’t disagree that one can cheat in yoga, I think the idea of cheating needs to be placed not on the execution of a pose, but whether or not that pose represents you and where you are today.
Are you doing the perfect, ideal pose or are you doing you?
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Kelly Stine
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own