Why is it that so many of us are so obsessed with idea of achievement in our lives? From a young age we are encouraged to set ourselves goals & ambitions. Indeed when someone seems to lack personal ambition it is often viewed by society, family, friends as a massive failing on their part.
Then when I started to practice yoga, one of the first things the teacher said was that it was not about achieving goals & that yoga is completely non-competitive.Well that's all very well for him to say, I thought to myself as he executed a gravity defying arm balance, an impossible looking backbend before wrapping his feet behind his ears & reciting an incomprehensible mantra in a foreign tongue.
Surely we wouldn't be human if we weren't constantly competing with ourselves? Always striving for self improvement. I can recall the buzz I felt when I performed my first unaided handstand away from the wall. We just love to see ourselves make progress & many yogis, myself included at the time, measure our progress as we accomplish more challenging & spectacular looking asana. Indeed the practice of Ashtanga yoga, which I discovered later on my yoga journey, seemed to be pretty much all about moving on to the next series of impossible looking body contortions as far as I could see. The students not permitted by their teachers to move on to the next phase until they achieve perfection in the primary series.
It was this feeling of never being good enough, never achieving that perfection, that almost led me to abandon my teacher's training course before I'd even begun. It seemed that so many of the other students in my intake of trainee teachers seemed to effortlessly slip into all sorts of contorted knots & dare devil arm balances.
However as I began to study yoga in more depth & with maturity, I began to understand that impressive though such poses are to look at, achieving them was not what the practice of yoga asana was all about. Some bodies will never perform such poses & nor should they ever be expected or forced to.
I came to understand that the practice of yoga asana is simply about moving with our breath, in a quiet quest to become more united & deeply connected to ourselves, each other & the world. The most advanced yogis are not necessarily the gymnasts, athletes, acrobats or the whippet thin asana junkies posing for their Instagram feeds. The most advanced yogis are those who sit quietly in meditation & who can delve deeply into yin.
The most advanced yogis know that the practice of yoga is all about self-love & self-care. Taking time out of the day not to pursue far off goals & achievements, but to revel in the glory that is already waiting to be discovered deep within each & every one of us. This prize is not just for the bendy, the skinny, the strong & the young but it is there to be enjoyed by the creaky, the old, the tubby & the weak!
So celebrate what your body can do. Liberate yourself from the idea that we always have to be getting somewhere in our lives & spend time enjoying doing less rather than striving to achieve more. Nowadays my practice is still about keeping my body healthy, strong & supple, ironing out the kinks & creases. However it is much more than focusing on what I can attain with my physical body, for me, my yoga practice is the opportunity to tune in to myself. To turn up for myself & acknowledge how I'm feeling. It's the chance to connect to my breath, to recharge my energy levels & reboot my emotional batteries. I know that after my yoga practice, no matter how much time I've been able to spare, I will always feel better, emotionally, physically, mentally & spiritually.
Elisa Williams runs yoga classes in Notting Hill, teaches privately in West London & with her sailor husband Dominic, runs yoga retreats & activity breaks overseas & in the UK.