I like to think of asana as the physical manifestation of how we’re feeling on the inside. We use these postures as a physical language or a moving prayer. Our ability to set intention infuses the attitude and shape of the pose so we can convey our energy without using words. Don’t get caught up on the aesthetics of the posture, but rather drive your intention and energy into every line of your body.
A backbend is one of the most beautiful postures in yoga. It’s open, expressive, and beautifully vulnerable. Some students are naturally flexible in this region of the body, while others swear they were born with cement in their upper back and hip flexors. I have a theory about backbends. Imagine you’re running from a saber-toothed tiger. You’re hoofing it, but to no avail. The beast is almost upon you, so what options do you have left? Drop into a tiny ball, pull your knees to your chest, and wrap yourself around your legs in hopes that you protect your vital organs. When we do a backbend, we are fully exposing every organ, all of ourselves to the world saying, “I totally trust this moment! I believe nothing will attack me and that I am as safe as safe can be. I give in to this pose and moment knowing I am safe, nurtured, and happy.”
If you attempt a backbend and fall into more of a tight backbend or one where you feel claustrophobic, it may not be so much of a physical response as it is emotional. It’s time to tap in physically and emotionally. The backbend will come with a perfect blend of physical discipline and our ability to work through our emotional baggage. Backbends urge us to be content with who we are and to build our strength and confidence. Let these poses be your teachers and open up the doors of possibility. As you find this blend, your pose will indeed be a physical manifestation of your internal intention.
Beyond the physical benefits and symbolism of our core emotions, yoga postures also teach us how to exist and react in real life. If we apply ourselves enough, we can go deeper into a backbend, build the upper body strength to hold a handstand, or flow through a ninety-minute class.
Accept that everything shows up for a reason. Our goal is to stay nonreactive and be observant so we can learn and become stronger. This is the reason we do yoga—to grow. To become a better version of ourselves. To aim true and see the lesson is all that truly matters. All you have to do is show up and do your best.
Comparison Stops Here
Yoga comprises glorious postures meant for all bodies, but let’s be totally honest—there are many postures and depths of variations that are meant only for the super flexible or incredibly disciplined (which often translates to stubborn) practitioners. Let’s imagine you’re in yoga class and you’ve had a particularly hard day:
You place your mat down and are starting to fill your intention tank with positivity when you hear—thwaap—someone settling next to you. You turn to see an Amazonian beauty limberly warming her body up before class. Your head is about as tall as her belly button, and her hair is so shiny it hurts to look directly in her vicinity.
Bring your gaze back onto your mat. Keep your intention strong. Doesn’t matter that your shirt is inside out and you’re pretty sure you haven’t washed these leggings in a while. You’re not concerned at all being next to the ambassador for Most Gorgeous Yoga Outfits Ever.
You start to practice. You arrive at handstands, which you’ve been working on for months. In fact, you’ve had moments of lingering air-time in the middle of the room. The taste of balancing success is right on the tip of your tongue. You start to kick up with hopes of flight time, but as fate will have it, your body isn’t game. It’s telling you to sit the hell down and take the day off from inverting. You catch an unfortunate glimpse of Wonder Woman in handstand next to you. Her effortless inversion goes on for days as you finally crumple into a melted child’s pose.
You have a choice. Are you going to give in to comparison and let someone else’s success ruin your practice? Or did you come to yoga to feel good? One of my favorite quotes that may have come from Eleanor Roosevelt is “Comparison is the thief of joy.” You can compare yourself with the people around you until you’re blue in the face, and it won’t do a single thing except encourage poor self-esteem. Will you always have at least one person in your life who’s “better” than you—on the mat, at your job, in your family? Always. Will you get closer to aiming true by dwelling on comparison? You won’t even be able to pull your arrow back to take aim.
Stop comparing. Start living. It’s up to you to live your life, not others. Comparing yourself with others is like living in permanent la-la land. You control your abilities and actions, so take the reins! If you can get beyond any kind of jealousy that arrives on the mat, you will be a champion for nonreactivity off the mat. You’ll be able to see people and situations for what they are, not what you’ve painted in your head. This is an incredibly powerful tool, but there’s one more I want you to wrap your head around:
Stop comparing yourself with yourself.
More than comparing themselves with others, people struggle with self-comparison and critique. I’ve found this to be my biggest road bump as I grow older in the health industry. I’ve had the unfortunate privilege to see my body photographed from the ripe age of twenty-one to the present. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve wanted my twentysomething body back, or how much stronger, thinner, able my body was then compared with what I have now. I’ll be having a particularly confident day only to run across an old beautiful image that degrades my current views on how I look. Or I’ll try to execute a yoga transition that was once seamless and find that I can’t even make it start to happen.
This trap of comparing yourself with a younger version is dangerous and unrealistic. You can’t be who you were yesterday; you’re a new person now! While a younger, suppler body seems alluring, the idea of emotionally reliving my twenties makes my heart quiver. We only get better with age. You’re always getting better and nothing is ever too late. My body may not be the same svelte one that I rocked at twenty-four, but my mind and heart are full with experience and stories that trump any body part. Every moment serves its purpose. The previous chapters of your life were fascinating, but remember, they were only setting you up for the adventures of the chapter to come. The best we can do is show up, set our intention to aim true, do our best, and repeat the next day. You’ll rest your head on your pillow every night knowing that you did exactly what you could and needed to. This is how we live in the present moment and embrace whatever it offers us.