Friday, February 19, 2010

Physical Attachment in Yoga

This is a Guest Muse by George Costakis.

Preventing my yoga practice from becoming increasingly focused on my physical body or my ability to do poses is a struggle. If there is a pose I can’t do I want to do it. If there is a pose that makes my abs look better or my chest bigger I do more of them. Staying so driven towards the physical prevents me from addressing the ego. In fact, it feeds the ego.

Early on in my yoga path I became enamored with going to more and more yoga classes at increasingly more difficult levels. Initially I started practicing yoga to feel better and improve my meditation practice but it was turning into something competitive and ego driven.

Yoga should free you from attachments not reinforce an attachment to the body which in turn reinforces an attachment to the ego. It’s easy to lose sight of this. I knew I had to do something about it before I became a washed up Yogi with no chance of enlightenment.

I made up rules to keep myself in line. The first rule is that I am not to look in the mirror once I have determined my alignment is correct. Looking in the mirror moves my focus away from my practice and onto my hair, or my clothes, or my butt. One time in class I kept marveling at how muscular my thighs looked in Virabhadrasana II. I should not be focusing on this, even though it happens to be true.

Secondly, I am not allowed to look around the room at other students unless I need clarification on how to do an asana. By looking around I start judging other students or comparing myself to them. Thoughts enter my head such as, “The tall woman in front of me can take the full bind. Why can’t I? “, or “The guy next to me needs to lose weight.” There seems to be no end to my mental commentary. Keeping my eyes off other students is a way to put a stop to this, pronto!

My final rule is to follow the instructor. That might seem obvious so let me elaborate. In some classes I want to take a variation of a pose because I think the instructor is wrong or because I was taught the pose differently. There’s the ego. I’m right, you’re wrong, my way is better.

Now, I do give myself a little bit of leeway with this rule. If I’m asked to do something that I think will cause an injury I won’t do it. If there is a variation that I know the instructors let’s us do I might do that variation. But, if the instructor says to grab the inside of my foot in Natarajasana (dancer’s pose) even though I was taught to always grab the outside of my foot I will follow the instructor’s lead. This takes my ego out of the equation.

When doing asana practice, I stay mindful of practicing without the ego, practicing without judgment and practicing without attachment. It’s difficult. Frequently I have to remind myself that Yoga is not a work out, it is a practice that leads towards awakening. If my mind strays, I first check my alignment, then I engage the locks and finally I return to my breath.

No matter how often I practice Yoga, though, eventually my body will die. If I would just stop attaching to it I wouldn’t have to follow a bunch of stupid rules.


Unknown said...

Great post, and great reminders! I spent the Fall dealing with an unexplainable and frightening physical condition. All the restorative yoga in the world didn't help and I was so attached to it being the cure! The lesson of course was to release my idea of yoga once again and listen to what my body was telling me, day by day. My practice continually takes me to new places, new people, new awareness--even when I don't want to go...

Grace said...

This is an honest post, and one that I can relate too. Thanks so much for sharing.

Eco Yogini said...

i LOVE this post. My favourite in the student series and sooo pertinent.

Thank you so much for sharing your rules, we could *all* let go of judgment and ego (teachers included). :)

Kay Burnett said...

thanks George. Your post has many good reminders. I sometimes practice near you in Brooks' class, and although I haven't focused on your great thighs ;-), I do notice your great extension and deep knee bending. Maybe I'm jealous because my knees don't bend so deeply. I try to be observant without being smitten or critical, although as you say, it is hard to keep that part of the mind out of it. I, too, use the mirror, and I hope it is to observe more than to critique, me or others. I find myself staring most often at a point on the floor about 3-4 feet out from my feet. I see / sense everyone in my periphery and I like that aspect of group practice. I do sense the competitive spirit in some, and lest I seem perfect ;-), I feel it in myself from time to time. My body attachment has lessened with age and with yoga. I like the celebration of well-being that Brooks brings to class. Focusing on the release of a muscle or bone position has helped me keep away from what others do and stay within my body while it changes.

Just had a conversation this morning with another great yogi, Nathan, about the opening that has taken place in his body since he began going to 60% or 70% instead of trying to go to 99.9% every time.

George! You've made me think! Thanks!

Tiffany Hutchings said...

Thank you for this post - I can certainly relate to what you've said. Sometimes I get overly concerned about aches and pains or worried about the potential for a larger injury in my body. I have even been afraid to do something I want to do (a steep hike, for instance) because I'm worried that I'll injure myself and not be able to do my yoga practice at the level I'm accustomed to. I have to remind myself that this sort of mindset is in complete conflict with yoga philosophy and my own efforts towards disattachment.

Something that helped me was reading the book Learning to Breathe by Alison Wright. She shows that you can practice yoga even when you can't move your body at all. I try to remember her story when I find myself caught up with concerns about my own physical body.

Brooks Hall said...

Dear George,
You have presented a compelling perspective. Thank you for this post! I find myself wanting to say, "Yes, and..."

From my viewpoint it's also important and good to celebrate what we have while we have it, and even to appreciate the gifts that others have, too.

We are here to drink the nectar of happiness, and not only to learn how to loose things even though that is part of our truth and something that Yoga can help with.

Love it while you got it!

Many blessings and much happiness,
From your Bliss-hound yoga teacher, Brooks

Cris Boastyle said...

It's so true : me too I try to prevent my yoga practice to become a gym session or a ego busting class. Thank you to remind me.

Emma said...

the comment about following the instructor is good brain food. i often see myself going where you mentioned your mind goes. itll be good to look at that.