Practising yoga as “swimming in a culture of advancement”

I enjoy reading Christina Sell’s blog, though I’ve never met her. She has an openness, almost rawness in her writing that I personally find very appealing and engaging. She wrote recently a couple of blog posts (first this and then a follow up here) about — amongst many things — the performance of yoga compared to the practice of yoga. She reflected on her need to work towards advanced postures, and how this is part of her personality (competitive) and upbringing (sporty) and how her teachers, implicitly at least, encouraged it by focusing on students who made this level of attainment, rather than those who were less physically able.

yogaswimmerSell acknowledged that the examination of why advanced poses are desirable came to her pretty late. I guess for her it was just self-evidently what one did. The blog title is an elegant phrase from her blog.  I’m sure it’s what yoga would have been for me if I’d come to it younger and healthier. So in a way I’m glad I didn’t. Sure, I have days when I wish I could do more, and I have times when I’d like my asana practice to look better. And I definitely find it intimidating when I’m in a studio full of one-time ballerinas and gymnasts.

But when I’m honest with myself all I really want is for it to feel good on the inside because that makes me behave with more love and more openness and I can see and feel the difference this has to those around me. In small ways, to be sure: I’m not aiming to save the world. But I believe in the domino effect, or some inherent natural law of ‘paying it forward’ or whatever the appropriate yoga formulation is for this idea. I like to think that there’s the potential at least for a good ripple-on every time I step onto the mat.

Those times when I come to the mat full of expectations and competitive impulses just don’t feel good. It’s almost like yogic gluttony. I feel afterwards that I’ve over-indulged and behaved badly somehow. It makes my practice feel small and selfish.

Maybe I’m starting to grasp the idea of offering your practice up. Although this used to strike me as off-puttingly esoteric (to whom or what? and how?), paradoxically this now seems a way of keeping it real, remembering that solitary hours on the mat are not a self-indulgence but are somehow, magically, a catalyst for greater good out in the world. Maybe intention is everything.

Someone asked me recently how long I practised every day, and I said “as little as possible”. That’s not quite true, but I was trying to get across the value of small and humble offerings made regularly. Grand gestures can be a lot of fun but abhyasa is really the biz.


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4 thoughts on “Practising yoga as “swimming in a culture of advancement”

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  1. “Offering it up”… That’s a phrase that has several resonances for me. Having been raised in a conservative Roman Catholic household, I remember that if we complained about stuff, my mom’s catchphrase was “offer it up (to the souls in purgatory)”. But offering one’s sadhana up has a different flavour – it’s “ishvarapranidhana” – humbling oneself before the divine. And I wholeheartedly agree with you – it’s “the biz”!


  2. I think it’s what makes this experience of asana practice so different for me. Everytime I chant the invocation, I mentally offer it up to all teachers. It somehow came naturally this time and maybe that’s what bhakti yoga is but I don’t think I did anything for it. It just happened.


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