Our society has trained us to focus too much on progress and productivity. These are such core values in our lives that we don’t even recognize their influence any more. It seems non-negotiable. If you are not productive every day, if you are not constantly improving and moving forward, then you are a failure, a burden on your fellow humans. And no matter how much you do, there is always guilt and shame that you still didn’t do or achieve enough.
One of the most important things that I have gained through my yoga practice is perhaps the un-learning of this perspective. When I first began my practice, it was all about improvement. I wanted to become more flexible. I wanted to be able to show off difficult poses. I wanted to “be better.” But the most interesting thing has happened. The longer I practice, the less those goals mean to me. My practice has become about something else entirely.
Over the years I have been able to witness what truly matters to me. And being able to do a headstand or an arm balance or the splits has not made me any happier. I am no “better” for it. Now I don’t go to my mat to make “progress.” I go there to be present. Really present.
The asanas were not ever intended to make us “physically better.” They were intended to focus the mind, to make the body comfortable and tired so that we could sit in meditation more easily. The physical practice is actually only a small part of yoga. Yet western culture has focused solely on that aspect. We’ve eagerly interpreted yoga as just another form of exercise, a way to get in shape, a form of self-improvement. Because the only way we have been taught to see value in something is if it can serve those purposes.
The beautiful thing about yoga though is that the reasons you’ve come to the mat don’t matter. The truth of yoga will reveal itself to you anyway. You will find those moments of presence as you breath, as your mind is totally focused on the sensations of this moment, as the outside world falls away and time loses all meaning. This is what brings people back, even if they don’t have the words to explain it. This is the power of yoga.
Yoga teaches us the value of presence even though we started with the goal of progress. We learn how much more meaningful it is to just be. To sit in stillness with ourselves, with our breath. We learn that we are already perfect, just as we are. We learn to let go of our obsession with forward momentum, in favor of what already is. There is no where to go. There is nothing else you need to be or do. It is perfectly fine to just exist. There is bliss to be found in each moment. So there is no need to change, to rush yourself through life, to feel guilty for not doing enough, being enough. You are enough. This moment is enough.
What a beautiful gift it is that yoga gives us. The gift of accepting ourselves and this world just as we are. Moments of true presence. Moments of pure peace. The understanding that we don’t have to wait for these things. We don’t have to wait to be happy until we prove ourselves “worthy.” Until we get that promotion or lose 10 lbs. Happiness has always been ours to claim. It is inside of us. We are already worthy. All we have to do is be here to enjoy it.