“You know, there really is so much too much of you!”-A Tale of Two Cities.
This is sometimes how I feel about myself. Too many thoughts, too loud, too curly, too curvy, too many asanas, singing when I should chant, talking when I should be silent. Part of my journey of yoga: embracing it all. There is exactly as much of me as there should be. Yes, self-transformation can be good, but self-acceptance is even better. If it’s true as the Baghavad Gita says, that “yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being who you are,” then I may be slowly, slowly almost practicing yoga. I see the growth and the stuck places too, everywhere in my life. And it’s evidenced in my yoga pants and my Instagram account. Say what???
Those of you on social media might have noticed there’s been a little more of me there than usual lately. I participated in my first Instagram yoga challenge, and been posted the prescribed poses there (almost) every day last month. And, just like the yoga, I’ve found it an interesting window into my habits, inner tendencies, samskaras. I wonder if any of you can relate?
First, I’ll say this, it’s been fun. I’m a Leo, after all, a former dancer/singer/actor type, and I’ve never been afraid of the “stage.” In fact I kind of love it. I never really got stage fright for a performance. Once out there and engaged in my “thing” I was always fine. But I definitely froze up for auditions. In looking back at that time, I realize my downfall wasn’t lack of talent or skill (though maybe that played in), and it wasn’t my thin skin (though that surely didn’t help). The problem was that I constantly judged myself very harshly, before during and after an audition, and could never loosen up and be myself. I was setting myself up for failure before I began.
So when I took up yoga I thought I’d let go of a lot of all that judgment. It immediately felt amazing. Natural. Like I was born on a yoga mat. Without the mirrors or the need to fit a ‘type’ I could let go of looking at the shapes I made from the outside.
Except, I didn’t really do that. Not for a long time. Some of my yoga friends and teachers may remember the huge baggy pants I used to wear. My favorite pants were so big I had to tie these ballet slipper elastics around my waist to hold them up. I also wore tight, tight leotards under huge baggy shirts to both ‘suck it all in’ and conceal what I thought was there. I bought everything 3 sizes too big so I wouldn’t have to really look at myself or confront how I felt about myself. I put judgment on which poses were hard or easy on different days, and placed way too much importance on their performance. How did I fail to notice I was still judging myself so harshly? Well, maybe I did notice, but I just couldn’t stop. Self criticism is a powerful addiction.
It’s taken years and years–I think it’s now 12 ½ years of daily Ashtanga yoga—and a lot of self reflection, but I’ve almost accepted myself the way I am. Almost. You can see it in the shrinking of my yoga clothes, although if you didn’t know me that could be mistaken for narcissism.
As I progressed through the series, I had to change up my wardrobe to facilitate the practice. If I didn’t want to get all caught up in the flowy folds of my oversized bell bottoms while attempting to get into lotus in Karandavasana, I had to wear tighter pants. If I wanted to leave enough room for the twist in the middle of Third Series that kicks my @ss every morning—Purnamatseyandrasana—I’d have to wear a tinier top. And, if I wanted to really tune in to the inner landscape, I’d have to wear clothes that were truly comfortable for me, not someone else’s idea of what might be good, so I could let go of the pinching pulling and tugging and get on with the meditation.
And so, I think I have finally let a few of my shadows drop in favor of getting what I need from the practice. And, somewhere in the last two years, I’ve finally come to accept my body most of the time, and even enjoy it some of the time. Seen the crazy flowery/stripy/starburst pants I’ve been wearing lately? A commitment to enjoying being me, in all my wild too-muchness.
So back to this instagram challenge. Sheesh that took a while. It’s been fun, like I said, but it’s also sort of pushed my buttons. I found that it distracted me from focusing on my drishti (gaze), my breath. It made me examine the poses from the outside in. One toe not pointed. The hip not perfectly on the ground. That little fold of flesh where my arms press in to my torso in Mayurasana stirring up my body image issues. My hair wild like a hippie one day. Completely not the point of yoga! Right? Or is it?
Somehow I managed to look at the imperfections and post the shots with pleasure anyway. I had fun getting the shots taken, without obsessing. Maybe 3 minutes per pose. Not too much reshooting unless the lighting sucked. Definitely no photoshop (as if I could figure it out!). I delighted in the asana and put it out there for all the world to see without pulling, pinching, tweaking or tucking myself into place. And this is the way I approach my practice most of the time. I don’t allow myself to be a perfectionist, for fear of losing the meditation. I don’t focus too much on alignment. I don’t repeat poses over and over again (or, well, not many of them). I just get on my mat and do the day’s series and usually I end up feeling better than when I started. Or at least I end up a little more tuned in.
And as for those IG postings, well, I’m still on the fence. In one way they feel so self focused. Even talking about them feels like that! But I guess I will keep on keepin’ on. They’re fun. They keep me putting myself out there in a structured way (much like Ashtanga keeps me getting on the mat). And despite the citta vrittis whispering in my ear that yoga selfies can be annoying and kind of narcissistic, I seem to be getting some great feedback. I find I also learn a lot by looking at someone performing an asana then hearing about the journey to that one moment of the picture. But oh, I may have to buy a few more colors of those crazy yoga pants. After all, I’m still a Leo…
Reader feedback: Do you find yoga selfies on social media fun and inspiring or a little annoying? Or both? Keep the comments coming.