„Have you ever seen a machine to train your asshole in a gym? Or a machine for your toes?“
This is what Yoga teacher Bryan Kest asked the class in a workshop a few weeks ago.
„Aren’t gyms supposed to keep us healthy ?!
Well, the muscles around the anus are the first to grow weak in our bodies. And our toes is where we first develop arthritis as we age.
But all we see in gyms are machines to pump our biceps and triceps and butts up until they are twice the size of our head.
So – I’m asking you: are gyms health clubs or vanity clubs?
Are professional athletes and dancers healthier people, or aren’t they sacrificing their health for some other goal?“
When I was a little girl, I used to dance whenever and wherever I could.
I took ballet classes, and I loved my teacher. She used to put music at the end of the class and let us dance freely. I knew at that point that my body shape was not made for ballett, but I didn’t care, because I was made for dancing. I remember once our teacher asked me whether I wanted to repeat my dance to her at the end of a class, because she had liked my moves so much.
Then our teacher quit, and we got a new one from the former BDR. Her voice was dusty and grim, and sometimes I wondered whether her face looked so smooth because of how firmly she wound her hair into a chignon.
She used to walk around in her pale blue leotards while the girls were stretching, taking notes in a little book.
1 point for those who seemed promising. 2 points for good performance.
I ended up being one of the girls she ignored. Zero points. One week she stepped towards me while we were stretching to get into the splits.
I was quite bendy at that time – but apparently not bendy enough. No matter what I did, a few frustrating millimeters would remain between me and the floor. After pressing down on my shoulders a little, my teacher gave me up for good. 0 points for me, week after week after week.
My hips were not made for the splits. So one day, I slammed my dancing shoes into their bag and never pulled them out again. Some years later, I threw the whole thing in the trash, without even opening it.
I still loved to move and dance, but in private. Whenever someone watched, I became clumsy, especially in school.
So, when I started practicing Hatha Yoga, there was a lot to overcome. It is only after injuring my hips that I understood my faible for hamstring- and psoas-stretches was my way to seek admittance into my ballett-teacher’s little black book.
I was reaching for my toes as if they were the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
Maybe it was because of my particular history that practicing Hatha Yoga helped me see my body with different eyes and understand what it means to EMBODY my Self.
From the outside, some Yoga poses seem as spectacular and demanding as a dancer’s stage performance. But there end the similarities.
Yoga does not measure the length of your hamstrings, strength of your arms, and looks in a pose. Whether or not you are an advanced student is measured by your ability to explore and surrender to your body-mind.
You can have your toes in your nose and still not do Yoga. You can sit in the „worst“ possible forward bend and be an advanced Yogi/ni.
This is an experience that can only be lived.
To me it felt like my body becoming the light bulb illuminated by my consciousness. Who cared about how the pose looked from the outside when my consciousness reached out to every cell of my body, flashing right out of my pores. Being alive and really feeling my physical, psychological, spiritual presence – isn’t that what it’s all about. (Strangely enough, even though I just said that outer appearance doesn’t count, you can actually see this „body-mind-illumination“, you can feel a person is fully inhabiting their body, and that all parts of it are in communication with each other.)
I really don’t want this to sound like some sort of hippy-trippy reverie. It was as simple and down to earth as coming home. And just as soothing.
There seems to be some kind of magical, mystical meaning we attribute to the poses. But in the end, they are just that: shapes we put our bodies in.
It’s not from sitting in Lotus posture that one will become „true“ student of Yoga.
There’s of course nothing wrong with wanting to progress in poses too and the feeling of accomplishment coming with progress is exhilarating and uplifting. But in my opinion, the outside progress should be motivated by the wish to shed light to the inner world.
Otherwise, time on the mat will be depleting for body and mind, like so many other activities…
Each pose offers opportunities to experience our being, just like every day offers so many ways of experiencing and acting in the inner and outer world.
„Is all this „fitness“ really about keeping all the important systems of our body in good health,
or isn’t it just driven by that belief that we are not – and will never be – good enough.“