I was recently asked in a beautifully candid email if I had any advice for a yoga teacher who had a "burning desire" to "achieve certain poses" they couldn't "wait to teach in class" fully recognizing yoga" is not a competition."
I think it is awesome that people are inspired to work towards new poses. One of my favorite things about yoga is that there is always another krama or layer deeper to breathe into -- you can never be "there" (wherever "there" is.) Our yoga practice needs never be static. Yoga postures need never be static. As Anne Cushman wrote, "yoga, like life itself, is infinitely creative, expressing itself in a multitude of forms, re-creating itself to meet the needs of different times and cultures. It's liberating to realize that the yoga poses are not fossils -- they're alive and bursting with possibility."
I love that there is always the possibility of working towards something new or different (read: not better.) I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a passion for the asana practice and having goals -- where would any of us be if we never tried to do new things? Life (and yoga practice) would get pretty boring that way, no?
On the flip side, it can’t just be about "achieving certain poses." At some point, yoga teaches us to listen to our bodies, and where we are in that given moment. Some days for me, where I am is in a scorpion handstand (I will never deny my love for being upside down), but other days, if I am being honest with myself, where I am is in child’s pose.
Samtosa, one of the Niyamas of Yoga: to accept what happens, to be content with what we have, having a feeling of well-being regardless of circumstances.
Yoga is not a competition. Not with the yogi on the mat next to us, and certainly not with ourselves. Doesn’t the phrase "yoga practice" tell us that? It is a practice -- not a performance. No one is grading anyone.
In terms of advice in response to this wonderfully thought-provoking email, I know that for me, it was, is, and always will be about simply showing up to my mat. Every day. Practicing every day and being okay with where my body is in any given moment. I put in the effort, and then attempt to let go of any attachment to the result. As hard as it may be to swallow, it is so true that a pose comes to you when you are ready for it. If you just keep showing up to your mat with an open mind and open body, the postures will come. (Never on our time frames, though!) You'll get there, or somewhere, and it will feel so great when you do, and then, you will focus on something new. As my teacher Tara Stiles says, "no big deal!" No competition necessary.