I had a friend who said he’d like to try Yoga but was afraid he’d do something stupid in class, like fart. I do think about that from time to time, but it hasn’t happened to me yet.
At its best, Yoga lets parts of me emerge that I’ve forgotten or didn’t know I possess. That sounds very “west coast,” I know. When I was doing the harder poses I felt like a superhero, like I could defy gravity.
These days I don’t look so great in the Yoga studio, after months of beer and cheese. But I know it shouldn’t matter how good I look, because it’s not a fashion show – right? This is where I want to address the difference between self-awareness and self-consciousness.
When I started Yoga, Dawn and I joined an Iyengar class in Ravenna. Our teacher was pleasant, but delivered a typical Iyengar regimen, which insisted on mathematical perfection at every joint, twist and bend. Once in the poses, we held them…for a long time.
I was bent on being perfect, and treated my body like a disobedient dog. I was sore in the hamstrings for about two months, and it never let up. I applied the mountaineering principle to Yoga, which is to say, Work Through The Pain. It was downright dumb, and took me a couple years to figure out until I met a Yoga teacher who insisted I stop trying to kneel perfectly in virasana, because I was likely to blow my knees out (he was right).
So in this case, I was not being very “self-aware” as to what I was doing to my body.
What I like about my current teacher is that she stresses the importance of not doing harm to yourself – instead, being self-aware and listening to your body, and your breath. For example, if your breath is labored you’ve gone too far, and you need to back out of the pose.
What happens to me with certain teachers though, is that I get self-conscious about how I look and how well I can do the pose. Self-consciousness seems to block my ability to be self-aware. I throw my body’s real interests out the window in favor of what my brain (or ego) thinks is most important.
My favorite teachers prove they can fail in front of the class by attempting a pose, blowing it, and showing no pride about it. That’s the best lesson, really.