Imhotep (why do I say this?). Yoga is physical, but for most practitioners can also be spiritual and artistic. Many images and videos of people practicing yoga are well crafted and show the diversity of movement the human body is capable of. However, these beautiful images we see present a challenge to resisting the temptation to compare our journey and our practice to someone else’s, especially if you’re just starting out. In fact, sometimes seeing those images can be discouraging or lead to self criticism and self-deprecation. When you engage with these images, consider arming yourself with some psychological tools. The best way to guard your heart and self esteem from comparing is to focus on your PROCESS. The images you see are often the outcome. They are the peak of the pose at its full expression, usually performed by someone who either has natural flexibility or has been working on that particular pose for years! The images and videos you see on social media are a brief glimpse at someone's physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual journey. When you focus on the superficial, you reduce then benefits of the practice. Here are three tools you can use to help you shift your focus to your process:
1. Review what the poses represent and the spiritual or energetic effect they are intended to have. Make an effort to give the posture personal meaning. This way, when you see an image or a yogi practicing this pose in a different way from you, you can see the connection to yourself as opposed to the superficial aspects of the body. For example, the Pose of Immortality is an expression of the life force energy (the breath), Shu. Moving through the sequence of this posture with the angles and geometry described in nature and our ancestors connects us to powerful natural energies. Connecting to this energy is beneficial no matter how deep you get into the physical aspects of the pose.
2. Study the anatomy involved in yoga poses. This way, seeing someone else's progress can turn into a more scientific objective observation (like, “her hamstrings are long”) as opposed to a critical comparison (“she’s more flexible than I am”). Objectivity and a scientific approach to our growth can aid in untangling from the emotional detachment that we sometimes get caught up in. Anatomy knowledge also allows you to find new ways to progress. Sometimes our progress in a pose is delayed because we're not addressing the flexibility of the muscles surrounding the target muscle.
3. Recognize that your thought process can benefit from yoga just as much as your body. When you notice discouragement and self-criticism because you see a yogi execute a pose that is not within your current abilities, consider it a chance to do yoga with your thoughts. Self-limiting thoughts, thoughts that invalidate and devalue yourself, are not in line with yoga. Yoga empowers you. The process of using yoga for self-improvement includes valuing wherever you are on your journey, because that is exactly where you need to be. Don’t short-change the lesson by being hard on yourself. Instead, remind yourself: this is where I am, this is exactly where I need to be. Breathe into the progression of your journey. Keep moving forward, but find gratitude for each step. Hotep.