Mind The Gap

13 01 2010

Think of all of the people that you know, or know of.

Visualise a scale from 1 to 10 and give the person you admire the most a 10.

Now score yourself. Less than 10? Am I right?

Pretty much everyone has this gap between how they see themselves and how they would like to be and most of us work to close that gap. But no matter how hard we try to close it the gap persists as our ambitions alter,  our aspirations shift  and our circumstances change.

So, how realistic is it to think that the gap can ever be closed completely?

Completely unrealistic in my opinion, so does this mean that we shouldn’t try to close the gap?

Absolutely not, as the gap between where/who we are and where/who we would like to be is what keeps us motivated to try new things….it keeps us moving forward with our lives.

And here’s the thing.  While the goal is important it is not as important as the journey.  Ursula K LeGuin put it beautifully when she said “it is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end”.

This is a way of thinking that I find particularly helpful in my yoga practice and a lesson that I take into my life.  Here’s an example I used to give my yoga students to help them understand the difference between the destination and the journey.  If you decide that you are going to walk to the park you set out, head down, brisk strides and sometime later you get to the park. That’s fine. If you decide to go out for a walk then you enjoy the walk, you experience the walk, feeling the sun, the breeze, smelling the air, hearing the sounds of the birds or the traffic. Some time later you may find yourself in the park. The end point is the same but experience will have been completely different.

Whatever your goals, whatever your destination, however big the gap is between where you are and where you want to be, make sure that you experience the journey.

Yoga IS NOT an olympic sport

23 11 2009

I have first of all, in the manner of all good politicians and journalists, to declare an interest here. I am a trained yoga teacher and one of the first things I tell every class I teach is “Be gentle with yourself…yoga is not a competitive sport”

At the weekend a friend forwarded a link to an article in the New York Times about Yoga Competitions being proposed by a man named Bikram Choudhury.  Some background. Bikram Choudrey  is a very shrewd and successful businessman. He is the Bikram in Bikram yoga; a specific series of postures performed in a hot room as championed by sportsmen such as Andy Murray.

But is he a yogi?  No. And I’ll tell you why.

Yoga is not just about the postures. Indeed the postures are possibly the least important aspect of yoga practice. As Patanjali puts it in the Yoga Sutras, yoga is about stilling the mind. I practice Ashtanga yoga, primarily, which is a series of postures performed in sequence, which was developed at Mysore, India by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and I have been fortunate to be instructed at a workshop here in Scotland, by his son Manju.  Manju told us that his father had given up performing the physical aspects of yoga as, having stilled his mind, it was no longer necessary to stretch and pull the body. The postures are a stepping stone to stilling the mind.

Yes, the postures are important but there are seven other aspects to consider as there are eight-limbs of yoga.  The postures are the entry point for us in the west wanting to embark on life based around the yoga principles of right thought and right action.  We are more familiar with the physicality of exercise than we are with internal practices such as meditation so attending a yoga class and mastering the postures is a good way to start.

A good way to start…

….but for lots of westerners  a yoga studio becomes little more than an exercise class with buddhist chants replacing the bass-beats of body pump or body combat. Students look around, see fitter, sleeker more flexible bodies and start to compare themselves…they become competitive with others in the room. Then, worse, they become competitive with themselves. Getting into lotus becomes a challenge that they will force their body to accept and defeat. This is not yoga! It is on this focus on the body beautiful and our inability to control our ego that allows Bikram Choudhury to suggest the idea of competitive yoga and even hopes to have yoga accepted as an olympic sport!

I repeat…

…yoga is about the mind. When I see someone in a perfect headstand how can I tell what is in their mind? Am I seeing a yogi or a great gymnast? By definition if I am seeing a perfect headstand in a yoga competition I am not seeing a yogi!