July 24, 2016

Why your Yoga Goals are (Probably) Irrelevant, if not Downright Dangerous.

crazy yoga pose don't try this

A few weeks ago, I was about to start teaching at a new gym, so I decided to go there for a workout before my first class to get to know the place.

While there, I had an inspiring conversation with a woman about yoga. Without mentioning that I was a yoga teacher, about her yoga class and her teacher at the gym. Her answer got me thinking about the relationship between yoga and gyms:

“What I really like about my teacher is that she tells us at the beginning of our practice what we will be able to do in a certain amount of time if we keep practicing.“

All we need to do is show up to class, and the rest will come.

But what about non-attachment? Doesn’t yoga teach us to not judge things by the possible outcome? Aren’t we supposed to stay in the present and then see what happens? Isn’t most of our suffering caused by expectations we have?

Osho, one of the most controversial thinkers in the past century, tried to draw attention toward this. In one of his reflections on Patanjali‘s yoga sutras, he says:

“You may be hoping that now, through Yoga, you may gain something. The achieving motive is there with the hope that you may become perfect through Yoga. If this is the cause then there can be no meeting between you and the path which is Yoga. Then you are totally against it, moving in a totally opposite dimension.“

What is the point in yoga, then? First, we can raise our level of awareness toward our own actions. When we go to the gym to have a yoga class, it is an experience within the context of a place that is made for shaping bodies. Many people go to yoga for physical exercise, which is something we can get from yoga, but also other activities. The physical is just one element of our yoga practice.

We also need to remember that it’s all about balance. Being too attached to our asana practice puts us at risk of injury. (Read William J. Broad’s The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards to read more about that side of modern yoga practice.)

Like many of us, I had to learn that lesson the hard way—not even being a yoga teacher could hold me back from pushing myself into deep hip-openers that my body wasn’t ready for at that time. Instead of nailing pigeon pose, I found myself with a so-called “hip impingement,“ one of the most common yoga injuries these days. While recovering from that pain in my hips, I learned my lesson that less is often more. Without pushing myself toward the goal of a perfect pigeon pose, I would have been able to do it much earlier.

The attachment to the results of my practice and my overall lack of patience were not beneficial to the outcome.

We all enter class as ourselves, just as we are in that moment. Let‘s take a typical yoga studio scenario with 10 students that came for “After-Work-Yoga“—how many people in that class might be perfectionists that always try to push themselves toward certain goals? We live in a highly competitive society that encourages us toward the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. We may find ourselves thinking that we are not good enough to do things that we really want to do—or perhaps we put too much energy into challenges that are very difficult or even pointless, just to prove ourselves.

All of this causes stress, and we seek something to show us a different perspective. That stress we create in our lives is a reason for going to yoga.

Taking that thought and coming back to our starting point it all comes to a new perspective. Do I really need another goal in my life? Can‘t the yoga class just be an island of well-being, where I let go and be myself in an accepting and non-judgemental way, where I can just feel the movements in the moment and observing the effects over time?

It should be a space of non-judgement—which is something most people rarely experience.

Being attached to the outcome of our practice distracts our mind from the present moment because we think about how we could feel instead of focusing on the present. It might be less important how our friends react to our first handstand, but it will be of great value what we have learned on our journey getting there.

My yoga practice helps me gain a deeper understanding of my feelings. Moving the body and noticing the effects of certain postures is like reading the news about ourselves: it will not always be pleasant, but manipulating the information will only bring more turmoil in the long run.

Self-acceptance also includes accepting where we are.

Having goals is great for bringing structure to our practice, but it‘s all about what we learn on the path to our goals, not about the outcome.

As Einstein says: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.“



Author: Robert Busch

Photo: VIVOBAREFOOT at Flickr 

Editor: Renée Picard

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