“Can you do those crazy arm balances?” This is what I sometimes hear after people learn that I teach yoga.
This comment makes me sigh inwardly, because it is so far off the mark from what yoga really is as well as indicative of the misinformation out there about yoga.
When I get asked about those crazy arm balances, I don’t think the person asking really wants to know if I can do flying pigeon or eight-limbed pose. I think they ask because it is all they know about yoga. Their only experience with yoga is seeing pictures on Instagram or Facebook of yogis doing one-legged wheel or side crow or whatever. Granted, those pictures are pretty, and I think they are meant to be inspiring. But for most of us, those pictures are discouraging because they trigger negative thoughts: I’ll never look like that.
This even happens to me. Recently a friend posted a great picture of herself doing one-legged wheel pose. She looks fantastic–she’s thin, really fit, and I know that she has been practicing that pose for a while. Because I know her, I know she took the picture because she was proud of herself for achieving a goal.
But when I looked at it, my automatic thought was about me, and how I’ll probably never do a one-legged wheel pose. I struggle with regular old wheel, because that pose makes my right arm hurt. I can’t get it fully straight, and all I can think about is why my right side feels so weak, and why does this pose make my arm hurt like that? And I’ll never get my foot off the ground.
And therefore you have an example of what happens when your ego takes over. See how my mind ran away with the idea that my wheel needed to be perfect? Because if I’m going to start to raise one leg in that pose, my arms need to be stable, and they aren’t. So I’m left with frustration and the sense that I’ll never get into this pose.
Then I have to take a breath and ask myself, why? Why am I practicing this pose? Why am I straining to make it perfect? I like wheel because it’s a strength-building pose, but more than that, it’s a heart-opener, an inversion, it gives you a new perspective, and it can make your back feel great.
So if those are the reasons I practice, what difference does it make if my arm is straight? Who cares what it looks like? And why should I get hung up on whether or not I can lift one leg? The practice is not the pose, and the pose is not the practice.
I have to remember to be mindful and to honor my body. I can have a lifelong, rewarding yoga practice and never do wheel pose, one-legged or not. I have to remind myself to let go of the ego, and let go of competition. Being a good yoga teacher doesn’t have anything to do with looking picture-perfect in a pose.