Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being oneself.
In my total and boundless ignorance and inability to find a proper, adequate and exhaustive definition of what Yoga is, a couple of days ago I stumbled on a sentence of the Bhagavad Gita that struck me very much: "Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being oneself". The more I practise and teach, the more I realize how much this phrase tells the truth.
I do not know if it happens to other teachers as well, but during my lessons I often have to remind students that they should not face asanas as a challenge, that they should not have to make comparison with one another (including the teacher) and that they should try to concentrate only on themselves and on their own possibilities.
This recommendation, though repeated over and over, unfortunately results in scarce - or none - effects. And it means nothing if I show different variation of almost every asana, explaining and reminding that it is not necessary to make the "advanced" version. My are words thrown to the wind.
Everybody wants to make Vrksasana (Tree pose) with the foot resting on the inner thigh; there is not a "little" Bhujangasana (Cobra pose); and no Janu Sirsana without head to knee. What are the consequences? People who lose balance a thousand times (and thus waste all the time they could devote to breathing), others who are in super-awkward postures, with neck embedded in the shoulders, or who carry the chin to the chest in the belief that so they are stretching toward the knee.
In these situations, I struggle to stay "yogic" (as a good yoga teacher should be - but I obviously am not good) and I curse the presence of mirrors in the hall, but not just those. I would like to put blindfolds on everyone and perhaps the students could stop being competitive (toward each other and towards oneself) and they would just start "listening". Of course, at that point, the really hard part starts. Because accepting to be unable to enter an asana, or failing to do it like a fellow student or the teacher, is tough. Properly interpreting the signs of your body, isolating for a few moments the ever present sense of sight and let the asana come as it may come (and not as we would like it to come) is very difficult. But isn’t this what differentiates Yoga from any other fitness class? Shouldn’t yoga be be "what you learn in the descent" trying to touch your feet with your fingers (and maybe never getting there)? I realize that the line is extremely thin, but we really should strive to find a compromise between "I'm not doing anything" and "I'm doing too much", as Maurizio Galli said one week-end of the Hari-Om yoga teacher training.
I made that sentence mine and I am never tired of repeating it to my students. Repeating does not seem to be enough. Or I'm too presumptuous to hope to be taken at face value. On the other hand, if the phrase I mentioned at the beginning is true - as I think it is - learning to tolerate the consequences of being yourself is very difficult and requires a great deal of strength. In this sense each of us fights every day a personal "battle", even and especially far from the mat. And then maybe I just have to trust Seneca, giving it a good example: I'll try to "tolerate what happens as if I wanted it to happen." I will therefore leave the students persevering in finding the “perfect” asana, hoping that they will learn something along the way.