I taught yoga twice last week. Just like if I teach yoga near Thanksgiving, I’m compelled to theme my classes around gratitude, when I teach around New Year’s Day, I feel like I have to talk about intention and transformation. As much as we might try to insulate ourselves from external demands, in particular those coming from entities trying to sell us something, it’s difficult to escape entirely. And the message right now, coming hard and fast, is “new year, new you.”
And yet, there is nothing wrong with you. Exactly as you are, you are basically good – wise and compassionate and powerful, whole and well. You are not a project or a problem. And still, we can’t help but feel the constant pressure to make more of ourselves. We see videos like this one from DDP Yoga (which is NOT yoga, btw, imho), and the transformation, the way the drama of it is distilled into a short burst is so compelling. We watch it and believe that if we just sign up for this program, the size and shape we desire is easily within our reach. But what the video really shows is ONE human’s determination, ONE person’s process and resulting success – and that has little to nothing to do with the program the video is trying to sell us, the fix it promotes.
We all have to find our own way. Our truth is never the big T truth for everyone, and similarly just because something worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will be helpful to us. We are all on our own path. Certainly we can support and help each other, and there will be times when we share our path with others, have that in common, but ultimately we all must find ourselves, our own particular truth, our own way. As Buddhism refers to a middle path or middle way, but that middle is in a different place for every person, relative to our particular experience, and even then it is constantly shifting rather than a fixed point. It’s all a big experiment for each one of us.
Yoga as I understand and teach it isn’t about self-improvement. It isn’t about becoming something better or different, even though it sometimes unfortunately gets promoted as such. Yoga is about showing up with who we are and what is arising, having a sense of curiosity, cultivating an open heart and open mind, letting go of our agenda in order to meet what is, and meeting it with our innate wisdom and compassion. It’s about pealing away the layers of confusion. It’s not about putting our body in a specific shape but about being in our body, with ourselves, and becoming more and more authentically that. Through practice, we become more and more ourselves, and in this way we are on a path to wellness.
That said, yoga might not be your path. After years of doing traditional workouts, practicing from a place of self-improvement fueled by self-hate, I had to start over completely. I needed to find ways to move my body that felt good, that brought me joy. For me, that meant yoga, and also Pilates, aqua aerobics, swimming, and walking my dogs. It also includes things unrelated to moving as such, things like journaling and meditation, managing stress, healing trauma, getting enough water and sleep, and cultivating supportive and satisfying relationships and work. For you, it will be something else.
Soften towards yourself with compassion and trust your own innate wisdom. Let go of your agenda, turn away from external expectations, and tune into your intuition, your knowing, your longing. It is there that you will find the magic and the medicine, a kinder more sustainable middle path.