Why We Practice Yoga
Over the last 4 days, I had the pleasure of studying prenatal yoga with a wonderful teacher and mentor, Stacy Wooster at Beauty Blossom Birth in Round Rock, TX. At some point during the training we looked at pictures and videos of pregnant yoga practitioners moving through really physically challenging poses--think forearm balances, scorpion, bakasana, and full upward wheel (Urdvha Danurasana). Some of these images looked beautiful and empowering that a woman could still practice her "normal" yoga routine up into the 3rd trimester. But, when we looked a little further, it started to feel alarming. We started to ask the questions...What are the afteraffects of such a vigorous practice while pregnant? What's the benefit? and What effect does it have on the baby and longterm on the woman's body? And, then I had to ask myself if this was really yoga or just ego acting as yoga?
I believe we move through stages in life and in certain stages we have a strong preponderance to ego. If we are practicing aligned with tradition, ego should not exist in yoga practice. We simply move through postures, link with breath and attune to the body. Obviously, we are constantly working through our egos. Depending on the season of life we are in and what our physical bodies need, we adjust our practice. Yet, yes, it feels good to finally achieve balance in Crow Pose/Bakasana, it feels good to finally touch our toes with ease, it's uplifting to move seamlessley through a sun salutation. There is a fine line between doing good for ourselves and reaching more depth with our yogic practice versus answering to the ego by pushing it further--whether or not it is with ease. My ego tells me--"try to stand in your head (Sirsasana) every day because it's good for you and because you can do it" (or so it thinks) whereas, my body tells me--"no, that's not necessary, that won't result on positive overall effects."
Going back to the pictures and videos of pregnant yogis moving in advanced poses, I had to ask, "Is this yoga or is this ego?" I think it is ego in large part. And, it's a struggle to come to terms with sometimes--the body completely changes during pregnancy from the hormones relased to the brain waves to the physical changes. Therefore, our practice can and probably should change. For yogis, this can be an especially difficult realization that maybe we need to adjust and if we truly are listening to our bodies and understanding the changes, then it's for the best. All seasons of our lives warrant changes in our yoga practice. This is just one example.
The point of yoga is to sit with ease, to move through this world with greater clarity, equanimity, and connection to our earthly bodies and soul. Defined time and again through the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali (Sutra 1.2) ..."Yoga is the cessation of modification of the mindstuff." We practice not to put our foot over our head just because we can--we practice (asana/postures) to find a sense of sameness and calm through all the poses whether it be Tadasana/ Mountain Standing Pose or Sirsasana standing on our head--approaching it with awareness of..."Is this good for me?", "Am I connected to my body/breath/soul?", and "Can I practice this with ease?", "Can I let go of the ego/mindstuff?" If not, somehow the yoga is lost and the ego has won.