Why there's more to yoga than being bendy!

One of the joys of teaching yoga is how much your students can teach you. It is easy to assume that teachers already know everything, but nothing could be further from the truth! Yoga is the art of living and so while we are alive there are always new lessons to learn and things to be reminded of that we may have forgotten. 

Some time ago one of my students had a wonderful insight. At the end of the class another student was praising her on how flexible she was and lamenting her perceived lack of her own ability, saying she was “not very good at yoga”. I was just about to intercede when the first student replied: “But you come to class every week no matter what; that’s being good at yoga”. How right she was!

Yoga is as much a state of mind as a state of body; and dedication to regular practise, whether you feel like it or not, is one sign of a more advanced student, regardless of how flexible you are. As stated in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, perseverance is one of the qualities required in an accomplished yogi:

“No matter what happens externally, rain, hail or shine, your sadhana (yoga practise) must be done regularly.”

Yoga practise is also life practise and this short exchange made me wonder how often we compare ourselves unfavourably to others and in doing so get diverted from pursuing what would really make us happy. Making a comparison is not helpful or fair as we are all born in unique circumstances with a different personalities and abilities so we do not all start from the same place or develop in the same way.

Comparison also leads to judgment and we can end up judging ourselves and others, often harshly, with no real justification. So for this student to feel she was ‘no good’ at yoga because she wasn’t as flexible as another person was not only not recognising that they have different bodies with different innate abilities, it also disregarded the very real progress and benefits she had achieved in coming to class regularly.

We are all guilty of comparison to some extent, myself included, but as we all know, the richest, most beautiful, most successful people are not necessarily the happiest. And although maintaining your mobility is important for your quality of life, being super flexible will not make anyone any happier! I don’t believe gymnasts, dancers or circus performers are any less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than others, but in fact studies show that those who have a regular yoga practise are less prone to such conditions.

I don’t have the answer for what the root of happiness is but I feel it is something that comes from within rather than without. Yoga practise gives us the space to focus inwards, to still the mind so we can hear our inner voice and connect with something deeper and more meaningful and ultimately more rewarding than simply being able to touch our toes.

Reference: Ch1 v16, pg 54, Hatha Yoga Pradpika, Swami Muktibodhananda, Bihar School of Yoga, Yoga Publications Trust.

Jenni is teaching a hatha yoga class on Monday mornings 9.30am-10.45am at Yoga Balance, London, N12 9EP. http://yogabalance.co.uk/apps/mindbody/classes/9