CHALLENGING THE PARADIGM OF YOGA AS A WORKOUT

As the summer solstice fast approaches, I find myself day dreaming about all that the warmer weather

brings with it and the endless joys of summertime in Colorado. My mind wanders towards the simple

pleasure of drinking beer around a campfire under the stars; the sheer bliss and simultaneous struggle

of summiting the first 14’er of the season; the familiar smells of backyard barbecues.

And yet, while I feel the joy that these thoughts spur, and as I continue to experience both the nostalgic

reflections of the past and the growing anticipation for the future, there is that part of me, that deep-

seeded part of me, that feels this small yet persistent twang of anxiety when I think about the changing

seasons. Or, more specifically, when I think about the inevitable transition into a summer wardrobe.

Thoughts of feeling crisp mountain air on my face are replaced with the self-loathing brought on by the

less than flattering lighting in department store dressing rooms in the quest for a new bathing suit.

Excitement for kayaking down the Arkansas river is replaced with the disappointment of not feeling like

my body is “summer ready.” The time spent thinking about the season’s first trip to the Mt. Princeton

Hot Springs is replaced with time spent thinking about how I can create more tone and definition in my

body before the season’s first trip to the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.

Rather than embark on some clearly needed introspection as to what causes these feelings of insecurity,

I turn to my yoga mat . . . but, for all the wrong reasons.

When these feelings of bodily insecurity manifest, I take to my mat almost compulsively. I get to work

early or stay at work late to take classes that don’t normally fit into my schedule. When I can’t find a

class that will work with my schedule, I become diligent about my home practice. And whether in the

studio, or at home, in this insecurity-driven practice, there are no days off, and there sure as hell is no

skipping any chaturangas.

This obsessive compulsive, imagined need to practice with such vigor came to a head for me practicing

at Better Buzz last week. After a weekend spent outside spring skiing and gardening, and neglecting to

wear sunscreen for either activity, I woke up Monday morning feeling like shit. Not only was I so

sunburnt my face was legitimately blistering, but it was so severe that I was experiencing the symptoms

of full on sun poisoning. I was in so much pain that I opted to work from home. After drinking more

glasses of water than I could count and anointing myself with record breaking amounts of lotion, I woke

up Tuesday morning feeling a bit better, though not one hundred percent like myself by any means. I

plowed through, taught my regular classes at Better Buzz Yoga (complete with a Spotify playlist titled

Sunburnt, but Happy) and felt grateful to have made it through the day.

I was happy to have had a full and fulfilling day, but could feel my energy level waning. I knew my body

wanted, desperately NEEDED, rest, and likely a break from the heat of the studio, and yet when the time

came for me to decide whether or not to stay for Devyn Ashley’s Flow 2-3 class immediately following

my class, I decided to stay and take class. Not because I felt up for it. Not because I had the energy. Not

because I thought it was a good idea for my body.

I stayed because that small yet persistent voice in my head was telling me “It’s almost summer time. You

need to strengthen. You need to stay physically active.” So, I stayed.

And I got my ass kicked. And not in a good way.

I love taking the Tuesday evening class. Devyn has a calm confidence that encourages me to try new

things that I ordinarily wouldn’t and to truly break outside of my comfort zone. This class was no

different. The perfect balance of effort and ease; of strength and serenity; of hard and soft.

But all I could think about while I was practicing was how tired I was. How shitty I felt. How badly I

wanted to rest. Though my physical symptoms surely exacerbated my negative headspace, there was a

bigger problem. A bigger mistake was made than simply staying and taking class when I knew, deep

down, my body needed rest.

I fell into the trap of diminishing my practice to simply exercise, and fell prey to the all too common

modern narrative of yoga as strictly, and solely, a workout.

I let my insecurity about my body override my reason and contradict everything I know to be true about

yoga. I became so entrenched in yoga asana that I completely negated all other facets of yoga, paying no

mind to my breath as I practiced, and neglecting my body’s cries for rest as my practice became less of a

moving mediation and more of a manifestation of my insecurities.

As I started to examine how and why I allowed my insecurities to hold such a power of me, I was

tempted, at first, to berate myself for diminishing the power of this practice to something purely

physical. Instead, I began to contemplate some of the mainstream narratives we are told, and sold,

about yoga. I thought about the advertisements for overpriced leggings that cleverly make their way

into my internet browser, and about the one body type often on display in said advertisements. I

thought about the videos I have seen on the internet with titles like “15 Yoga Poses That’ll Make Your

Stomach Flat” and “Yoga for Weight Loss.” I thought about how, when I choose to share with others that

I teach yoga, a common response is “Wow! I bet that’s a great way to stay in shape.”

It’s no wonder that the moment my insecurities rose to the surface, I headed straight to my mat – the

common narrative, so much of what we are exposed to when it comes to yoga in modern times, focuses

on purely the physical. So while I can’t blame myself for falling into the yoga as a workout trap, what I

can do, and what I will do, is challenge myself, and others, not to fall into this narrative. Because while

the physical benefits of yoga are undeniable, there is so much more to be uncovered, and discovered,

along the way. Any physical transformation to be gained pales in comparison to the potential for inner

growth and connection, and indeed the physical benefits of yoga are more a positive side effect to the

practice than anything else.

I poured myself into my practice for all the wrong reasons. I began to wonder what if, instead pouring

myself into my practice for purely physical reasons, I immersed myself instead deeper into the study of

yoga, educating myself as to how I can be a more responsible, informed, and well-rounded practitioner

and teacher.

While I am disappointed that it took me physically pushing myself to the point of exhaustion in my

practice to realize just how misguided my intentions had become, I know that the first step towards

redirecting my attention is taking inventory on where I stand with my physical practice, and going from

there. For me, putting in the work to respect this practice wholly and holistically has begun and always

will begin with truth. And the truth is, I have a long ways to go in terms of self-education and

reestablishing a more well-rounded practice that respects all facets of yoga beyond just the physical.

Jamie MagyarComment