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Whatever you do, please do not tell me that I have a beautiful yoga practice.
"You have a beautiful practice" has become a sneaky way for well-meaning practitioners to compliment and praise each other for their abilities on the mat.
Yesterday I may have been able to straighten my legs in Plow pose but find that today my hamstrings are taut and my feet are just dangling out there in space. Some days I am fluid and flexible, and other days I am wound up like the rubber band on a balsa wood propeller plane. That's OK. That's how life is. When you attempt to comment favorably on my practice, you are placing expectations on me, and that impinges on my need to listen to my body and allow my practice to ebb and flow as it needs to.
Any kind of commentary on my practice is a reminder that I am being watched and a subtle suggestion that I should be aware of how others perceive me. If I decide that I want to grab my toes with my fingers in Standing Hand to Toe pose, and open my leg to the side just to discover my tipping point, I can't afford to be distracted by what it looks like. It may not be beautiful - at least not in any kind of way that can be observed by you or anyone else - but sometimes I want to be a mess of flailing arms and legs, sweaty and grunting. I need that freedom.
Whenever you tell anyone in a class that they have a "beautiful practice," you are intimating that they are better than the others, and you are insinuating competition among us. After all, you can't conclude that one person is beautiful without also hinting that others are less so. I work hard to not notice or care if someone else can stay in a headstand longer than I can or if they take an arm bind that my shoulder can't handle. Like many people, I am tempted to use this assessment as fodder for self-criticism. It's hard enough fighting my own inclination toward comparison; it becomes more difficult if I know you're doing it too.
At a deeper level, this kind of sorting and judging feeds into concepts such as us against them, you versus me, better or worse, ugly or beautiful. It is that kind of thinking (which we all do) that feeds our egos and helps to set the stage upon which the dramas of human suffering play out. If we never had to compare ourselves to another, or if we were always able to reach contentment with who we are and what we have, if we felt at peace with each other, what would there ever be to fight about, or angst over?
That kind of utopia doesn't exist for most of us, but yoga practice helps us to carve a little space and time where we can begin to experience that sense of oneness, of non-judgment of self and others, and where we can practice bringing those ideas into our minds and then into our lives. And you know what? It's all beautiful.
Julie is the author of Taking the Stairs: My Journal of Healing and Self-Discovery and Body Wizardry: Releasing the Champion Within, now available through Kindle.