How things appear is one thing; how they are, another.
This is true in everything in life, including people.
It is people I will be concerned with in this short observation, with the intent to encourage all of us to be more cautious and recognize the unwelcome transition that can come when well-intentioned effort toward self-improvement turns into obsession.
I myself have fallen into this trap, at two different junctures of my life.
The first was during my last year of high school, when, I, a 160-pound, 6’4” bag of bones gained 100 pounds in six months and became the training partner of David Draper, who went on to win both Mr. America and Mr. Universe and define modern-day body building.
The second came much later in life when I got into yoga, becoming a close student of Shiva Rey, Saul David Rey, Denise Kaufman, and Max Strom.
This too became an obsession, but not to the extent that body-building had.
Obsession is a problem whether it is passive or active. Allow me to explain…
Passive obsession is letting things go from bad to worse.
Those that are weak, shy, and of low self-esteem often appear that way.
Those who could benefit from makeup the most, wear it the least.
Those angry natures, full of jealousy and lust, generally don’t mind presenting themselves that way.
The overweight do little about their appearance.
At the opposite extreme is active obsession. This is the type displayed by those who cannot help themselves from displaying their eagerness to put forth a favorable image to the world.
Already stronger than 10 chimpanzees, the bodybuilder neglects family and friends to spend time at the gym.
The yogini, whose body is already over the top, can’t refrain from showing what she’s got, and working hard to get more.
The beauty queen, already “perfect” in every way, obsesses to make herself even more so.
The overweight work toward obesity as much as the paperweight yogini works toward pencil-hood (or disappearing altogether).
The handsome hulk breaks his chops to be Goliath, even at the expense of his “ding-dong” not ringing anymore.
The lusty, craving, jealous man pacifies himself on a dateless night by watching porn films.
The wimp whimpers, and, knowing the more he whimpers the less likely he will ever roar, continues to whimper.
What’s up here?
The point is that neither those who we would likely not trade places with, nor those we likely would, are much better off in one important sense: neither extreme reflects an appreciation of what is really of value in us as human beings, the sense of who they are without any trappings.
But, who is that?
Who am I stripped of my mountainous biceps, raging lust, bottom like no toilet seat has ever seen before, downcast, whimpering face so sad it would even bring a terrorist to tears?
At some point, whatever efforts we make to improve our appearance—or actively fail to put forth any effort at all and thereby allow ourselves to go from bad to worse—should cause us to say “enough.”
We need to pause and listen to the voice inside saying, “I don’t need the extreme studio, I don’t need the extreme gym. I don’t need extreme cookies, ice cream, or pizza. I don’t need your sadness, or beauty, or beautiful form. Find a fricken’ middle way, please.”
When we go to extremes in anything, the value of the endeavor is lost. We lose touch with ourselves through excessive striving or giving up—which is just passive striving.
Instead of pursuing extremes, we can choose to care of our bodies to make them serviceable to our minds and aspirations.
Yoga has the power to do this—if we truly embrace all parts of the practice. There are eight limbs of yoga, and asana, or the practice of moving the body through different postures, is but of them—even though this is typically the way that yoga is understood in the West.
The other limbs are where the action really is. Asanas can transfigure our figure no matter how disfigured it is, and in short order. But when the asanas become our obsession at the expense of focusing on the other seven limbs, we cut ourselves off from the rich experience of a world-transcending practice.
The principle should be clear that there is a point where discipline and dedication turns into obsession, and when we don’t recognize that point, we risk losing the value of whatever we were doing, whether it be yoga, body-building, modeling, or otherwise.
This goes the other way as well, for those who practice passive obsession and let themselves slip into being ever more so disadvantaged.
If we practice all eight limbs, we will not make a choice to follow any extreme, for extremes always create deficiencies—inner deficiencies which they attempt to conceal from without.
Author: Richard Josephson
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman