My Worth is Based on My Asana Practice

I woke this morning pondering the problem that all teachers and even students face at some point in their yoga journey—the value of who they are measured by their ability to execute “advanced” asanas. 

Tell me if this sounds like an insecurity you have running through your head: “When I can do _____ (insert headstand, handstand, arm balancing pose) I’ll have mastered my practice” or “When I can _____ (insert asana here) I’ll be validated as a teacher or yogi”. Our media driven world is overrun with images of gymnastic style yoga, forcing an impression on the rest of us that THIS is yoga.

The problem is, handstand isn’t yoga. It’s gymnastics. The problem is, arm balancing isn’t yoga. It’s just another way to move your body. So, what is yoga?

I think we’ve all heard this argument before, that the asana isn’t what makes us a yogi or a yoga teacher. However, all of the arguments I’ve heard in defense of this claim haven’t sold me yet. Then, this morning, I magically awoke with the answer. Yoga is the mental battle you have between your higher self and your ego over the worth of who you are based on how well your body can perform the physical asana shapes. Said another way, yoga isn’t the asana; yoga is the point A to point Z unraveling of the ego that results in total self-acceptance. We start with feeling not good enough to be able to get into that “advanced” asana to realizing that our physical capabilities are never a reflection of our eternal worth, which eventually results in total acceptance of who we are, what our body authentically is and the understanding that yoga is about the evolution of the WHOLE self, not the body into a contorted shape.

So, if your self-esteem seems relentlessly hitched to your ability to invert, be grateful that you can recognize that. Being able to see what you’ve tethered your worth to is the first step in practicing yoga. The more and more you return to your mat, whether it be in pursuit of flipping upside down or not, will inevitably continue to refine your self-awareness. And almost without your needing to effort, as you do towards that inversion, you will eventually acknowledge your capabilities and limitations. It is only after this acknowledgment of the truth of your body that acceptance can follow and it is that acceptance of what is that makes you the advanced yogi. Why? Because self-acceptance is the end goal, THAT IS SAMADHI.

Kiara McBain