That moment when you suddenly find yourself able to do a handstand or a yoga pose that once looked impossible is an incredibly empowering feeling and you realise then that you are only in competition with yourself. Deepening a stretch is as much of an achievement as mastering an inversion, and yoga is about being so present in the moment that you’re able to recognise these small moments of progress and change, you’re able to still the mind and flow meditatively and look only within.
I wanted to share this article written by my friend Sarah Bladen, a freelance writer and spiritual coach based between London, Dubai and India, who launched the blog On Cloud Zen which celebrates everything that she is passionate about:
Over the weekend, I popped into the Dubai Yoga & Music Festival (organised by the lovely Angela Pashayan, a bhakti yoga teacher from Colorado and the yogi/entrepreneur Ryan Noronha). Besides vinyasa flow and rocket yoga, there was chakra healing on the beach, debates about mind over matter and mass meditation sessions. While browsing through racks of eye-catching Om Shanti tees, I got chatting to a Hatha yoga teacher (who trained at the Shivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in India) about whether the true meaning of yoga has been buried amid the commercialism and glamorisation of it.
Not only has yoga become something of a fierce fashion scene in the studio, we are now living in the age of the yoga selfie. You can Instagram your way to instant yoga stardom. By wearing the right brand (obviously) and twisting into a provocative pose (say, clad in a fuchsia bikini), you’re guaranteed to boost your following. For traditional yogis, this smacks of first class narcissism and renders yoga a vanity-driven practice that feeds the ego, rather than helps you to find your true self. Others argue that such images are simply an inspiring celebration of the strength of the human body.
One of my gurus from India, attended a Bikram (hot yoga) class in LA, and noted that it was brimming with competitive, type A personalities, who were overly preoccupied with comparing and perfecting postures, while also exuding an air of sexual desperation. He nailed it when he said: “You could tell their minds were more disturbed than calm. They were craving love, and yet going about it in the wrong way.” The yoga session was more like a cutthroat gymnastics class, and the most important concept of all – stilling the mind – had been lost.
According to the Patanjali, the sage behind the Yoga Sutras, the whole process of yoga, is supposed to transcend the limitations of the mind: “To rise above the modifications of your mind, when you cease your mind, when you cease to be a part of your mind, that is yoga.” For traditional devotees, controlling the mind, breath and the ego is key. The Sanskrit word yoga has the literal meaning to yoke from the root yuj meaning to join, unite or attach. One of the core principles of yoga is non-attachment (vairagya), learning to let go of the many attachments, fears and false identities that cloud our mind.
Having a non-judgmental and relatively detached viewpoint is crucial in yoga. Personally, I think it’s important to embrace anyone who is on a yogic path. We don’t know what their journey has been like so far and where it might end up. When I’m on my mat, I try my best to follow this: No jealousy – the only person you should be competing with is yourself. No awe-inducing jaw drop when your neighbour is doing a perfectly aligned firefly. Just a sense of appreciation and acceptance.
After all, true healing, self-realization and happiness is an inside job, and not something that can be achieved by doing a handstand scorpion. Attempting to dissipate mind chatter, takes an incredible amount will power, tears and sweat.