Yoga has a reputation to some outsiders as a contortionist’s craft. The uninitiated often claim they can’t “do” yoga because they lack the flexibility to twist themselves into the often misguided pop culture images of yogis as human pretzels. This standpoint, however, sidesteps the pivotal issue: yoga creates the limber bodies, the strong muscles, and the open minds enjoyed by its practitioners. It doesn’t happen the other way around. The incremental progress is achieved through a process of growth and discovery whereby subtleties the scope of a hair’s width gradually, with practice, become more obvious. Slowly we come to see, feel, and understand what was before invisible or perhaps frustratingly obtuse. Our bodies grow into the perfect posture through study and attention, through breath and focus. Usually this picture is vastly different for each person, and for each posture.
Yoga has an intriguing ability to challenge us how we need to be challenged. Sometimes this means introducing us to our limits and inviting us to respect them. This can create a sandy seat for the ego, but the whole point is to ultimately bring us to a place of serenity. If the ego needs to be harassed and humbled for the blissful journey to progress, yoga can oblige. So what if you’d like to go deeper into a posture than your body allows – your perfect pose is the place where you are perfectly aligned not only in body, but also in breath and in spirit. If you are grimacing in pain or addled with frustration, you are not doing yoga. Don’t work so hard!
This doesn’t mean don’t show up. The hard work – as well as the blissful reward -- is in the consistency, the dedication, the slow and steady. I once read somewhere that rather than the standard blocks we use in class, a more suitable prop is a book, from which one page is torn out for each practice, taking the given pose incrementally deeper, slowly and respectfully. This is yoga. There is no hurry.
We should nonetheless continue to work toward our goals, without respect to time. Age doesn’t matter, size doesn’t matter. On the mat we are introduced to ourselves in all of our glory, fear, ability, and uncoiled potential. Maybe we have trouble relaxing, maybe it’s an overly competitive nature we struggle with, maybe it’s lack of focus or fortitude or a sense of connection. Asana, if we let it, will guide us forever closer to true alignment on multiple levels.
Therein exists a limitless opportunity for growth, an invitation to the infinite. As we place our bodies in tune with our breath, learn to respect our personal limits, and relax into the place we’re meant to be, yoga happens. This is the perfect posture. And everyone is different.