by Martha McQuaid
After almost two decades of practice, I have yet to master anything on my yoga mat; as my practice has matured, I have learned that the pose is not the point. In yoga, there is nothing to achieve; there is only practice. We tend to mistake the physical practice of yoga on the mat, or asana—the pose in which the practitioner sits—with the entirety of yoga, but it is only a small part of the whole of yoga; a fact that is sometimes lost as yoga shifts from a practice of introspection and self-awareness to a more results-oriented, fitness-focused product.
Understanding what we are trying to create through practice requires a deeper understanding of why we practice in the first place. The way the human body works and how we learn to create a balance of strength and flexibility are far more interesting than the attainment of anything external. How do we refine the actions to the point where we are connected to every aspect of a pose, in tune with not just muscles but also the mind, intelligence and attitude? This requires years of practice and self-study. There are no shortcuts.
We can define yoga by the classical definition of sadhana; a corrective practice for whatever area of perception that deceives us and leads us to identify with what we perceive. Part of what deceives us is having a misunderstanding about what we think yoga is, and then having an ego misidentification with what we can do physically on the mat, versus how we can cultivate more skillful living.
Yoga is a method by which we can begin to take responsibility for our personal growth. Yoga is that which corrects our level of discernment so that we can stop misidentifying with the false sense of ourselves; the false story we create about our lives in relation to the outside world. That is what we are working toward by way of cultivating and committing to a true, lifelong practice. Pushing the body into more challenging postures doesn’t necessarily cultivate what yoga is meant to bring to our lives—less reactivity, authenticity, inner peace and revelation of our true nature, as well as self-awareness.
What is it that we are aiming for when we go to a class? If the class is not challenging enough, then how do you define challenge? Challenge is not the extreme arm balance, attaining the perfect Instagram photo, or having a peak experience in every class. Challenge is meeting yourself as you are in any given moment, willingly placing yourself into an alignment that squeezes you physically while staying connected to breath and simply being there, free of reactivity. Practice is what you make it. We are always a work in progress, because in yoga there is nothing to achieve; there is only practice.
Martha McQuaid is an experienced registered yoga teacher (E-RYT 500) and certified through the International Association of Yoga Therapists. She is the owner of Spirit House Yoga and Yoga Lab, located at 5107 N. Shartel Ave., in Oklahoma City. For more information, call 405-528-4288 or visit SpiritHouseYoga.com.