For many of those who practice Yoga, it is not an exaggeration to say that their only goal is to be able to do those poses well.
In our modern competitive society, we are being compared with one another in many facets of our lives, ranked, categorized, and always being concerned with evaluation and critique by others. For that reason, many of us compare ourselves with others and become discouraged when we can’t pose as well as others. I believe there are many people who gave up on Yoga for this very reason.
I heard from an instructor who has practiced Yoga for many years say, “I have seen a lot of people who are strongly motivated by self-manifestation, become arrogant, and become more competitive only because they can do advanced poses.” The instructor continued, “There were many people who were pure when practicing yoga, but became egotistical once they became yoga instructors.”
However, originally, Asana is not intended as a competition for the beauty of the shape of the pose. The purpose of Asana to see one’s own inner self, and to be done in sync with one’s breathing. Asana aims to allow people to notice their own essence by abandoning their own obsession, purifying themselves and turning their consciousness inwards. In essence, a person being able to do highly advanced poses does not necessarily mean that that person is deepening his or her yoga experience.
Among the teachings of yoga is Aparigraha (often translates to ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness). This means to not become greedy, conquer one’s possessiveness, not become overly attached to things, and to first notice the things we have at hand, before we begin to desire other things. It is a philosophy that teaches us that “as long as we desire things from outside, we will never be able to realize our inner happiness”.
In yoga, it is believed that inside our exterior lies our true inner self, and our inner self is completely and perfectly content and happy with its current state. People become so caught up in obtaining happiness from without that we don’t notice our happiness from within, and suffer as a result. The true mission of yoga is to be able to find our already content inner self.
What should we do?
I believe that it is important to first realize that we are comparing ourselves, correct ourselves when we notice this, and to gradually shift our focus from comparing ourselves with others (focusing on things outside of us) to noticing our own state and feeling changes occurring within. Another philosophy of yoga is that if we somehow go down a wrong path, we are allowed to correct our course as many times as it takes. If we must compare, it is important for us to compare ourselves today to ourselves from the past, rather than comparing with others.
The reason I decided to write this article is because I myself have actually experienced this recently. I did yoga with classmates who are much better at posing than me during TTC (Teacher Training Course), and became disappointed when comparing myself with them. Every time I became discouraged I tried over and over again not to compare myself with people but to turn my consciousness towards my own growth. And three weeks later, I feel like I am gradually becoming able to accept that I need to progress at my own pace, and to be able to praise myself for growing ever so slightly every day.
Even in the aspects of my daily life other than yoga, I will try to stop comparing with people and turn my eyes to the inner side of myself, and be able to constantly maintain “Shanti”.