Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the Toronto Yoga Show. If you regularly read this site, you know how much I love yoga. I’m not only a certified yoga teacher, I also attribute my daily practice to saving my life time and time again. So obviously three-days jam-packed with a mix of juicy sun salutations and blissful meditations was a dream come true. However, the big draw was an opportunity to take a full-day yoga retreat with Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman, the popular and prolific partners in life and yoga.
Needless to say, a day with the world-renowned international yoga duo was not only amazing and inspiring, it was also enlightening. I have long held fast to the idea that yoga is accessible to “everybody and every body” on their path to achieving acceptance and perfection on the yoga mat. But thanks to Colleen and Rodney, I emerged with a newfound understanding that no one is perfect, life is messy, and we are all human so what we achieve on the yoga mat at any stage (from beginner to guru) should be celebrated as perfection…whatever that is. Here’s why:
When you picture a “yogi” what do you see? I used to see a lithe, blonde woman in her 20s contorted into full lotus. Thankfully, I haven’t in a long time. And since becoming a teacher myself, I’ve witnessed so many amazing things all sorts of body types and age groups can accomplish. However, hearing Colleen talk about yoga for a wide range of people, even those who are bed bound, opened my eyes to the interior interior accomplishments of a regular practice.
Even with an impressive array of star-studded students between them—Russell Simmons, Christie Brinkley, Donna Karan, Oprah Winfrey, Demi Moore, and Mariel Hemingway—Colleen asserts that, “the practice of yoga goes far beyond contortionism…the [actual] accomplishment should be measured in overcoming obstacles and always continuing to ask if there are ways to create more space and more freedom.”
The idea of perfection almost stopped me from taking my yoga teacher training and teaching my first class. We all have an internal cynic and if we measure ourselves against an image of perfection, it can stop us in our tracks. When it comes to perfection, Rodney claims that “the gift of yoga is blessing us with an infinite amount of space to explore our perceived limits.”
He constantly reminded us that taking any pose—be it easy sitting pose or a more challenging pose, like warrior three—the very action of challenging ourselves and exploring our personal limits is worthy of our self-respect and celebration.
Most yoga teachers expose self-love so we often don’t imagine we could ever harm ourselves doing yoga. However, the ego can often pressure us to aim for perfection over our own self-limitations. I’ve met many former yogis with back and neck issues due to forcing an advanced backbend too soon.
While I admit my regular yoga practice has greatly improved my flexibility, balance, strength, and my overall health, Rodney notes that the physical benefits are only a portion of the yoga experience. He calls yoga a two-way conversation made up of both the listening and talking to the body. If you’re only doing the talking, “you’re exerting too much with no receptivity.”
In a perfect world, we’d all eat fresh foods, sleep 8-hours a night, and get a few hours of exercise every morning. But even with the best intentions, real life doesn’t always work that way. This is why Rodney and Colleen are big in working bits of yoga into your daily life. That’s where taking TV Watching pose (or niralambasana variation) when you’ve had a sedentary day can give the body a good stretch.
We all tried TV Watching pose at the Toronto Yoga Show by lying on the belly with legs outstretched, heels spread, big toes together, elbows bent, and chin propped up and resting in the hands. Try it, it’s a mini back bend that creates space in the ribs and waist so you can breathe easily.
To challenge the idea that yoga is just for the youthful, athletic sect, Rodney and Colleen talked a lot about yoga’s purpose: creating space. “We spend so much time living in a congested environment,” says Colleen, “[that can exist in] bound up muscles and bound up emotions.”
Rodney and Colleen speak of yoga as a means to unbind and vent that congestion inside ourselves…allowing both the physical and emotional breathe.
So Colleen let it slip that Rodney had recently celebrated his 60th birthday (yeah, if that doesn’t make you drop everything and run out to a yoga class, I don’t know what will 😉 However, Rodney spoke much about how our bodies demand different things with age that often find themselves in conflict with our egos. And it’s this ego that can lead to injury.
However, he explained that as long as we are constantly listening and learning and exploring “within our own personal physical, emotional, and mental limits”…we become kinder to ourselves and others.