Thoughts, Yoga

Hey Modern Yogis! It’s Time We Stop Obsessing Over Physical Gain

While scrolling through my Instagram feed, I came upon a gorgeous yogi executing a perfect (and difficult) handstand variation that required both strength and flexibility. My curiosity to see more of her practice brought me to her page. In her description she proudly displays that she is “self-taught since May 2014.” My immediate thoughts? Wow. I suck. I’m horrible. I don’t practice enough. I’ve been practicing longer than her and I’m possibly years away from what she can do. Why? Why, dear God, do I suck suck suck?

Trying to forget about my deflated self-esteem, I continue scrolling on my feed again. I come across another beautiful yogini doing a difficult forward bend with perfect form. I read her caption underneath her wonderfully photographed picture. She says, “wow, forward bends are hard for me.” Now, WHAT THE HELL. I didn’t understand why she would say that a forward bend was hard for her when she was obviously killin’ the pose (in a good way). She basically was the epitome of the damn pose. Sure, forward bends may have been hard for her in the past but today, she was there. She was at the point we all wanted to be at. I’m sure she didn’t mean to demean anyone’s practice by saying those words but I felt it. I felt frustrated with my stiff body and frustrated with modern yogis.

I must admit modern yogis are obsessed with physical gain.  And, why do I know this? Because, I’m a modern yogi! I was obsessed with physical gain. I wanted to achieve every difficult pose before I even knew what it took to have a dedicated practice, before I even knew that there was a spiritual side of yoga. I know everyone has different bodies and everyone progresses at a different pace but, as yogis, we need to be self-aware of what we say, what we post, and what we do.

Lately, I can’t bring myself to discuss my physical yoga achievements with anyone, not even my man. All the yogis in my life talk about what pose they are working on and what pose they just accomplished. To me, it feels like bragging. And, in reality, it is. Don’t get me wrong, I do post pictures of my progress but lately I have not been able to bring myself to post any yoga pictures because my progress can’t be seen through an asana (pose).

My progress isn’t just physical, people! It’s spiritual. It’s emotional. It’s mental.

My progress with controlling my emotions, my anger, and my life does have to do with my asana practice. I do see physical gains. I am accomplishing poses I never thought I would because I have dedicated myself to my practice.

My practice is self-taught and self-driven. I don’t go to classes where my focus would be on a teacher. I don’t listen to music to guide my flow. I focus on my breath, my body, and Ashtanga’s primary series six days a week. I can understand the obsession of physical gain if one goes to yoga classes, feeling the pressure from other yogis, seeing physical advances on others and not yourself. If you are a beginner, classes are necessary for you to learn technique and the basics. After a good two years of going to yoga classes, I felt prepared to battle the self-driven task of an at-home practice. Due to this, I am experiencing more self-awareness than ever before. To me, obsessing over asanas simply means that ego has taken over. Asanas take up only one part of the eight-limb path of yoga. I quickly recovered from my annoyance with my Instagram feed by recalling two yoga observances, or niyamas, stated in the eight-limb path.

  • Santosha (or Santosa)
    • Santosa is basically contentment. We must be satisfied in our practice and what we have right now. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, also known as Guruji, is the founder of Ashtanga yoga. Whenever I find myself frustrated with my practice, I just remember his words, “practice and all is coming.”
  • Tapas
    • Learning about tapas changed my life. The end result of yoga is to be in union with yourself and the universe. To achieve this, tapas is necessary. Tapas is a fiery, self-driven, motivated commitment. I must stay committed, no matter how slow my progress may be. I must stay the course of my practice and trust in the path. I must wake up six days a week and do yoga. I must continue my practice with determination and effort, no matter how negative I feel about my body’s progress, no matter how much flak I receive from other people and other yogis.

Here a few things I recommend when you find yourself too involved with physical progress:

  • Do a self-driven flow
    • Instead of going to class today, light some incense, lay out your mat, and just flow. Don’t turn on any music. Don’t use a block or strap. Just listen to your body and cherish your body’s dimensions, no matter how tight or inflexible your body may be. You might not be able to flow as quickly or effortlessly as you would if you were guided by a teacher or video but this is the only way to truly find yourself. Do poses with what you feel comfortable. This type of practice is more a relaxation practice. Listen to your body and simply cater your practice to you and your body’s needs like those tight hips, resistant shoulders, sore hamstrings, or whatever your body truly needs, not what your ego wants.
  • Stop making time-sensitive goals
    • “I’m going to get my forearm stand by the end of the year.” – Me, about three months ago. Sure, this could be possible for me but I don’t make it a goal anymore. It will happen when it happens. Making time-sensitive goals in your yoga practice is just asking for trouble. You might even force yourself into injury. You might be brought down by disappointment. Yoga is a journey and enjoy every difficult step.
  • Find some damn gratitude
    • Okay, that sounds harsh but seriously though! Be grateful you have a beautiful temple of a body. Be grateful that you aren’t injured. Be grateful that you are injured and self-realized that your ego caused you harm (if that is the case). Be grateful for your practice. Be grateful for your drive and your motivation to get back on the mat even when you body fights every pose. Be grateful for yoga. Be grateful that you are you!

Physical progress will come in time with a dedicated practice. However, I just hate how many yogis fuss over this pose and that pose. In reality, anyone that practices yoga is winning in life. We all start as beginners. We all will battle self-doubt but only a few of us will experience self-realization through a dedicated, self-driven practice. Just remember, physical poses are only a small part of the yogic journey. Poses help us accomplish improvement in the mind and union with the universe, for that is the real goal of yoga.

6 thoughts on “Hey Modern Yogis! It’s Time We Stop Obsessing Over Physical Gain”

  1. I love this. I feel like what you are expressing is really relatable, and definitely something I needed to hear today.

  2. Really great post. I feel like the idea of obsessing over physical gain or just gain in general can be applied to many areas of life! I agrees with Kate up there, really relatable. :]

  3. Loved this post! I literally just hurt my shoulder yesterday by getting too aggressive with a forearm stand. I needed a reminder that it’s not just about the pose but about the full spiritual practice. Yoga has done so much in my life both physically and mentally. Thanks for reminding me what it is all about.

    1. Thank you! And yes I’ve been there too many times. But I’ve progressed in strength and flexibility in other places when I’m forced to make modifications due to my injuries. It’s frustrating as hell but not as frustrating as not doing yoga at all! I hope you heal fast! Thanks for reading. Namaste ✨

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