Yoga & Progress

I had my first formal yoga class in four weeks last night, and for various reasons, I haven’t done a lot of at home practice either. It’s not that I’ve been inactive, I’ve just done a lot more walking than I have yoga in recent weeks.

The break meant that last night, my appreciation for yoga class was sharpened. All the things I love about it came flooding back into my consciousness.

Most obvious to me at the time was how soothing I find yoga. This is thanks not only to its focus on mindfulness and breathing, but also its familiarity to me after four solid years of practice. Having done the main postures and sequences hundreds of times, my body knows how they work and how they should feel. Moving through sun salutations, wide-legged forward folds and shoulder stand feels like coming home. It’s much like the feeling you get after a long day when you pull on your pyjama pants, put on your favourite music, and dance-walk your way around the house.

This feeling of comfort is quite new for me. For a long time, I felt quite self-conscious while moving through the postures. This was not because I thought I was doing them wrong, but because I wanted to be sure that I was doing them better than every other student. My focus was often not on my own experience (bodily sensations, breath rhythm, thoughts, emotions) but on comparisons. I directed my attention toward observing the other students, rating their abilities, and pushing myself to flex further or stay longer.

This competition was all in my head. I doubt the other students were paying much attention, if any, to my exertions. This didn’t matter to me though. It wasn’t about winning accolades from others, I just needed to know that I was better than the others. I’m not sure why this was. Perhaps I felt a pursuit was only worth pursuing if I excelled at it. Perhaps I felt I was only a worthwhile person if I could claim to be the best at something. Perhaps I wanted to prove to myself that I was stronger, more flexible, grittier, something more than these other students.

Some time last year, the competition began to let up. I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, as it was a very gradual process, but I think it occurred in tandem with my efforts to tackle the rule-based eating and anxiety which had crept up on me during and as a result of year twelve. The more I proved to myself that I could be spontaneous and flexible in the way I ate and lived, the more I began to trust myself. As my self-trust grew, I became more comfortable within myself, more confident that I was a person who made good decisions, could handle setbacks, and was worthwhile.

So gradually, the urge to compete and compare has weakened. I can now do yoga without being highly self-critical and judgmental. Whether I do yoga alone in my room or in a studio full of people, the practice is about me and for me, not anyone else. Whether I manage to touch my forehead on the floor in a cross-legged forward fold or not no longer bears any relation to my sense of self-worth.

This change has been liberating, even though I hadn’t been conscious of it until now. It’s another important step on my journey. Like many important victories, I only registered it after it had already happened. It can be difficult to take a step back and see the bigger picture when you’re simply focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Nonetheless, when you do become aware of the progress you’ve made, it’s important to allow yourself to feel proud. These victories don’t just happen, they’re built out of hard work.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

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