Students in a class I attend regularly have started commenting quietly on a particular yogīni’s practice and taking subtle steps to avoid practising too close to her. I thought it was only me that found her a bit disturbing at close quarters. I’m all too easily intimidated in the yoga room. She’s not deliberately disruptive nor working her own routine during class; it’s simply the very physicality of her practice that is hard to be near. From my perspective it seems she views each āsana as a physical shape to be conquered as quickly as possible, with energy and determination. Her breath is quick and uneven, panting to the point of almost groaning at times. She dives into poses quickly and deeply to her maximum capacity and then often stops just as suddenly, drinking water, retying her hair or adjusting her clothes. She’s either in a pose or she’s fidgeting.
But I used to respect, if not admire, her physical abilities. I thought it showed such dedication to the practice, to a degree I could never apply. She makes shapes I don’t think my body ever could. Now I see this as raw physicality, a hunger for something deemed missing, an impatience, a lack of humility perhaps. I actually found myself feeling sorry for her in class the other day. I didn’t like that feeling — I have no right to judge like this and how can I possibly be so patronising about someone else’s practice?!
Maybe I’m noticing all this more now, not just because of some comments I’ve overheard, but because I’m exploring the physicality of my own practice and I’m finding it an uncomfortable challenge — in a completely different way. I’m aware that I often hold back in poses, too unsure, too shy to commit myself fully. Now I’m coming up with tricks and ways to override my habitual reticence. I’m facing up to the inner critical voice that tells me I don’t deserve this āsana, this release, this beginning of taking flight. This is where my work is, at the opposite spectrum to hers. But I never want this physical exploration to turn my practice into forced effort or a process of conquering my body. I want to find a graceful way of immersing myself fully and allowing myself to fall into Yoga but without straining after something before it’s offered. Oh hello we’re back to abhyāsa and vairāgya again, aren’t we? The balance of dedicated, full effort with the ability to let it go, not being attached to outcomes, not making it all about attainment.
I thought of all this today after my practice at home, a practice where I played various edges, exploring both my physical capacity and my mental reservations. I had some serious playtime with arm balances and inversions, deliberately more physical than my usual inclination. Bunny hops towards a handstand — nothing dramatic, just feeling towards any sense of lift and lightness. (Oh!) Then L-shaped handstand against the wall — exploring how the weight feels in my shoulders and hands. And after a rest on to Mayurāsana with plenty of props to help me, as you can see. My efforts are a bit wild! Today I recruited a cushion for my face, a block for my hands, and I tied a strap around my upper arms to keep them tight together. It’s coming along slowly but surely, but I already know that once I’ve ‘got’ this pose, I’ll just want to move onto something else that looks fancy. And this is quite a relief actually, to acknowledge that achieving this pose is itself just an aid to exploring fear and confidence, touching the raw nerve of my imposter syndrome, melting away the imagined limitations.
And having some fun!
Because trying Mayurāsana always makes me giggle A LOT!! So I was easily able to laugh away my inexpert attempts without getting too hot and bothered about achievement. After some quieter closing poses I settled into japa practice. I was quietly proud of attempting these poses but I also deliberately wanted to balance out the physical efforts with something quiet, something that is by definition un-showy. This felt good to me.
I hope my fellow yogīni’s practice also feels good to her. I can’t judge, of course. I should remember to mind my own business! I don’t need any distractions — there’s more than enough to occupy my attention on my own mat.