There are two people in a Yoga class, one can do the splits, one can’t: who’s better at Yoga?
Updated: Oct 8
By Indira Das-Gupta
When you scroll through Instagram and see all those beautiful, slim people doing impossible arm balances or handstands or maybe the standing splits, do you ever start to feel a bit inferior and think: “I’ll never be as good at Yoga as them.” Unless you tick the same boxes, you probably feel like you have nothing in common with these people and seeing what their bodies are capable of doing seems so far removed from your own reality that you may even ask yourself, “What’s even the point of me doing it when I know I can never be as good as that?” I totally get it. I’ve been teaching Yoga for 14 years and see people who have just qualified or maybe aren’t teachers doing things I simply can not do. Does it make me feel a bit adequate sometimes? Yes, I’m human and not immune to making unfavourable comparisons despite a daily meditation practice. But then I have a quiet word with myself and remind myself that being “really good” at the physical practice of Yoga doesn’t make these people better human beings or indeed even better at Yoga. Contrary to what that endless Instagram feed may seem to tell you, Yoga is not actually just about being able to do these incredible things with your body. Sure that’s one part of it and many people will do Yoga, maybe for years, and just be content to focus on the physical asana practice and never even dabble with the spiritual side. Maybe the classes they go to help alleviate aches and pains and they feel better for doing them, maybe even less stressed, but they are happy to just leave it there. That’s totally cool and I wish those people good luck. The physical practice of Yoga has many benefits and I’m passionately dedicated to sharing all the benefits of Yoga with people. But the fact remains that this is only a tiny part of what Yoga is all about. Literally tiny! The physical practice is a means to an end, not an end in itself. There’s a really popular quote in the Yoga world: “Yoga isn’t about touching your toes, but about what you learn on the way down there.” This puts it so succinctly. Through the physical practice of Yoga we can learn so much about ourselves and once we take this knowledge off the mat and into our everyday lives it can literally transform our lives. If that all sounds a bit dramatic or even off putting, let me put it another way: when you practise Yoga you might discover, for example, that the way you have been breathing your whole life actually makes you feel more anxious. Once you realise this you can start breathing better, feeling less stressed and therefore might even find yourself being less grumpy with your family. Or to give another example, you might become more aware of your posture so that you no longer get backache when you sit at your computer. Yes, of course the more you practice Yoga, the easier you will find it and arguably the “better” you will become at all the poses. But what goes on in your head, how you breathe, your intention will all contribute to how you perform those poses. When you are able to focus and concentrate, balancing becomes easier. What helps with focus and concentration? Meditation and mindfulness. So even if you start Yoga thinking: “I just want to sort out my back pain, I don’t want to get into all that hippy woo-woo rubbish,” the reality is that if you stick with Yoga you will find yourself dabbing in and even applying this other side of the practice even perhaps without realising it. You could have two people in a class, one who can do the splits and one who can’t: who’s better at Yoga? The one who can do the splits? Not necessarily. If that person is a former gymnast or dancer or is maybe naturally hypermobile, doing the splits could be easier for them than touching their toes is for the other person. While it is so intrinsic in our culture to make comparisons, this is really unhelpful to say the least in Yoga. The bottom line is there is no “good” or “bad” in Yoga. It’s not a competition, no really! You can treat it as a competition if you wish but that would be a real shame. We are all so different so why would we expect to be able to do exactly the same poses in exactly the same way as everyone else in our Yoga class? You can actually do yourself an injury if you try to force your body into a pose that just isn’t right for you. One of the main tenets in Yogic philosophy is non-violence, so why would you treat your own body in such a violent way, by forcing it into a particular shape? If we come back to our example of the bendy Yogi versus the stiffer one, you could argue that maybe it’s actually the less flexible person who is“better” at Yoga because they have had to overcome so many more obstacles and work so much harder. But the bottom line is it isn’t about being better than anyone else - it’s about increasing your own self-awareness and practising in a more mindful way. You can be the bendiest Yogi in the class and have very little self-awareness.
So please don’t torture yourself by scrolling through an Instagram feed filled with unrealistic and unattainable examples of Yoga. If you enjoy looking at these sorts of images and maybe even find them inspiring, go ahead. You may never be able to do some of the more crazy Yoga poses but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your quality of life by practising it. Forget about being “good” at Yoga, just be good to yourself.
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