I’ve been wanting to have a conversation about asana–the bendy stretchy stuff that happens on a yoga mat–for a while now. Specifically, I want to talk about advanced asana. Advanced asana is the hard stuff. Y’know: freestanding handstands, floaty armbalances, super deep backbends. It’s foot-behind-your-head kind of stuff. Jaw dropping demonstrations of physical prowess. The visually impressive.
Honest to god, just writing about feats of physical accomplishment, I’m yawning.
The truth is that don’t care all that much about physical virtuosity these days. To be really honest, I care less and less.
For over a decade I chose to be part of a community that, in my opinion, put far too great a value on the pure physical prowess. Want to get close to the man behind the curtain? Better make sure you can stick your handstand on demand!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti physical prowess. I’m just pro reserving the right to decide for myself how much value to place upon it, and reserving the right for you to do the same. I’m a lot more interested in doing my best to live with integrity than I am in standing on my hands.
I’m not even suggesting that living in integrity and standing on one’s hands are mutually exclusive. In fact, I’ve actually invested a fair amount of time in learning to stand on my hands–something quite unnatural, and difficult, for me. I still give handstand a whirl most days that I practice. But I don’t spend hours and hours on it because, well, I just don’t care all that much.
It’s not that I don’t care at all. It’s just that I care to the degree that I do–neither more nor less.
Do I think a disciplined practice of physical rigor can offer insight and make spiritually, emotionally stronger, less rigid, kinder, more aware people? Yes. Do I think it automatically does those things? Not on your life.
Fact: some of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met have had some of the most physically impressive practices I’ve ever seen.
(No offense intended to the physically proficient. Some of the loveliest people I know have advanced physical practices, too.)
I want to be really clear that I don’t object in the least to anyone caring about physical prowess more than I care. I am not suggesting that it is somehow superior–or more spiritual–not to care about physical mastery. What I object to is mistaking physical prowess for doing the work of determining what value it has for one’s self. I object to mistaking physical prowess for being a yogi–or even just a decent human being.
My burning interest in yoga lies in being a Nancy Drew of Consciousness. I yearn to sleuth out every crazy, beautiful, fucked-up part of myself–and of this crazy, beautiful, fucked-up world–and figure out what it’s good for. I came to yoga because I wanted tools. Now I have them, and I am passionate about sharing them. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
I practice asana because I need to move my body, and its particular way of moving the body with the breath works magic for me. It moves my blood. It shifts, for a while, my focus from mental chatter to embodiment. It reminds me of my creaturely nature. It emphasizes that I am a physical being every bit as much as an intellectual being. The physical invites additional inner experience. It pushes back against my tendency toward ennui.
It just makes me feel better.
That’s more than enough for me. That’s plenty.
Part of a good working definition of yoga, as I see it, is knowing the value of things. What do I want, and how much do I want it? What am I willing to invest in it? An investment of resources–of time, effort, breath, money–in something that’s valuable to me–a practice, a relationship, a passion–is a good investment. An investment of more resource than something is actually worth to me is a poor investment. Failing to invest in what matters to me would be another poor investment.
There’s a Sanskrit expression, “yatha tatha,” that means, “as much, so much”. Know the value of things, including a physical practice, and invest that much. Not more. Not less.
I don’t care enough about rocking my asana to make a greater–or lesser–investment of time or effort. I won’t be logging in the hours on my mat to take it the to the next level. Instead, I will be busily becoming the best consciousness super-sleuth that I can be.
I’m not an asana rock-star, and I’m not planning to be.
There. I said it.
How much is advanced asana worth to you? How much are you willing to invest? What are you unwilling to invest? Speak up or speak out. Leave a comment below.