Hopefully we have all internalized (or are beginning to realize that we ought to) the idea that each yogi and yogini should approach his or her practice without regard to what others in the room are doing. The guy next to you might have his leg behind his head – so what? You happily proceed to do your own thing, oblivious and free, unconcerned with where that guy’s leg is, always listening to your own body and honoring your personal limits, recognizing today’s stop-points as temporary boundaries that present themselves differently with every practice.
Differently with every practice. The idea of an ever-changing fluidity is key to the evolution of the perfect posture, and perhaps one of the more difficult concepts for yogis whose physical practice has grown to include some of the more advanced asanas. Once we learn to, say, bind our hands behind the back in Marichiasana A, or push into a full backbend, are we thus obligated to achieve these postures in their all-embracing glory every time we practice? With each step forward are we merely further burdened by the pressure to always progress, to keep up, to “achieve?”
Of course not. An untold number of variables can potentially affect one’s ability to achieve certain physical postures on any given day: the weather, room temperature, state of mind, time of day, previous activities (have you been sitting in front of a computer all day, or playing basketball?), etc. Except we always want to do our “best,” often mistaking what is best for us with what will serve our ego most. The experience of either pride or dissatisfaction with a posture is the ego talking. The true self couldn’t care less how deep a forward bend is, or how unwavering a balance pose. The true self is happy just to be, is thankful for the posture in any incarnation.
When approached with this mindset, asana practice is respectful and non-competitive. The idea of competition should be avoided in our practice, even in relation to ourselves. We should not try to measure up to yesterday’s practice. With boundaries always potentially moving, each individual practice should be attended to with the same precision of care as if it were the very first. In this sense the perfect posture is always evolving, always different.
Arriving at each practice as though it is the very first actually makes for a deeper, more productive practice, but it entails the hoary struggle of dropping the ego at the door before stepping onto the mat. So your practice has to begin before it seems to have even truly begun, before you have brought body to breath or grounded your feet into the earth. Of course these subtle lessons contained within the physical practice – if we practice for very long – begin to blur the boundaries between asana and life. Before class we drop our egos at the door, or at least we try, which is a good step. Maybe sometimes we forget to pick them back up, leave class without them, and stroll on out to make the world a better place.