Yoga has been around for a few millennia, but it’s only within the last century than yoga has really exploded into a worldwide phenomenon. Some may think it’s just a passing trend, but the profound benefits millions are experiencing indicate otherwise.
Today, yoga is practiced everywhere–from local studios to the boardrooms of corporate giants such as Google and from state prisons to rural African villages. It’s even being prescribed as part of treatment plans for cancer patients and military veterans suffering from PTSD.
So what’s keeping you from trying yoga?
You don’t have access to a yoga studio? Or maybe…you’re too worried about what others might think if you did step foot in a studio. If this is the case, you’re not alone!
Let me tell you an all-too-common tale from the Tadasana yoga festival I attended last Spring.
It happened during an afternoon session lead by the fabulous Seane Corn. As I was settling down on my mat, the gentleman next to me shifted nervously while glancing around the room.
After I made eye contact with him and smiled, he confided that he was part of a vending crew and that a coworker had talked him into taking the yoga session. “You picked a great class,” I replied. “I’ve heard she’s amazing.”
“Yeah…” he agreed, rather unconvincingly. “It’s just that I’m a little nervous about what she’s going to have us do. I haven’t practiced yoga in 15 years…I’m not sure I can keep up.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I tried to assure him. “Just listen to your body and do what you can do. You can always take a resting pose if you need it…it’s no big deal. I’m sure she’ll tell you the same.”
“I guess,” he mumbled, “…But nobody wants to look foolish,” he added with a wry smile.
Nobody wants to look foolish.
Just after our brief conversation, Seane took the stage. I promised myself I would try to toss a reassuring look at him during our practice, but unfortunately, that was the last exchange we would have. (Don’t worry, he didn’t die or anything like that!)
Labeled as a “Detox Flow,” Seane delivered a well-structured, invigorating, and moderately challenging sequence, and as promised, she instructed us to challenge ourselves, but to rest as needed.
From time to time, I briefly glanced over at the man to see him sweating, grunting, pushing his body to the limits, and no longer risking eye contact with me. About 10 minutes from the end of the session, he stepped off his mat and walked away, missing the final relaxation stretches, savasana, and Seane’s inspiring parting words.
Over 200 people walked out of the tent glowing with a beautiful mixture of energy and inner peace, deeply touched by Seane’s story, her words, and her sequence–but not my disappearing friend. Why?
Nobody wants to look foolish.
In his defense, I could be speculating. Perhaps he had to use the restroom and didn’t come back. However, my gut tells me otherwise.
Like so many yoga practitioners, I believe he pushed himself too hard in his attempt not to look foolish. His ego was more concerned about guarding itself than allowing him to relax and go with the flow of his own body.
Who could really blame him? Isn’t this the way most of us grew up thinking? We were constantly taught to rough it out, to try harder, and to keep pushing. No pain, no gain, right?
Moreover, we’re also unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) taught to compare ourselves to others. We always want to know who got the highest grade, who scored the most points, who had the best moves, who has the best clothes, and so on.
This is where many people get misconstrued ideas about yoga. Yoga was never intended to be a sport, a competition, or a workout program.
Yoga was intended to lead us away from judgement and towards greater compassion, but for ourselves and others. It’s about finding balance between effort and surrender.
When you step onto your mat, it doesn’t matter what type it is, so long as it serves the purpose of getting you onto it. It doesn’t matter what brand of clothing you are wearing, so long as your clothes allow you to move with ease. Finally, it doesn’t matter what age you are or what shape you’re in, so long as you are willing to recognize and respect the strengths and limitations of your own body.
I won’t lie to you and say there aren’t other students and (sadly) teachers who act otherwise. There are always going to be people who feel the need to make themselves feel better by looking down on others. However, this speaks to what’s going on with those people, not about the true essence of yoga, nor the true essence of you.
Don’t let fear of looking foolish keep you from the many benefits of yoga.
Embrace it, and move forward with it. Practice welcoming in compassion, surrendering, and above all, learning to respect your body. When you do, you too will come to experience the true joys of yoga–improved health, deeper healing, greater happiness, and beyond.