I am a practitioner of yoga. Here in the United States, many if not most of our expressions of this multi-discipline might lead one to conclude it is some sort of New Age fitness regime. Our enthusiasm for the potential physical benefits of the discipline, unfortunately, often strip away the rich historic cultural and spiritual roots of the practice.
Yoga has taken off in the West, with both wonderful results – and questionable ones. For a practitioner, finding direction or assistance is only a few moments away by computer and, increasingly, in studios worldwide. By following or subscribing to yoga journals, Facebook accounts, and yogis’ social media streams, it is easy to find assistance in any physical, mental, practical, or spiritual aspect of the discipline.
I read about yoga a fair amount – a little bit, daily. Much of my yoga asana practice takes place in a studio setting. Several times in the last half year, a few yoga instructors have attempted to correct the hyper-extension of my knees. In several postures I’ve had teachers tell me to do this, or do that – to bend or to straighten or to plant my foot this way or that. The advice has often been at odds with what another teacher has told me in a class just the day before. It’s been a little confusing, to be honest.
Today while reading a book on fashion history (for one of my other interests: bespoke tailoring, and clothing production), I came upon an entry regarding Nefertiti, the Egyption queen and goddess icon. Imagine my surprise when I beheld a clay rendering of this queen – whose beauty is so famed that her image is the most-copied work of Egyptian art – and discovered a full-figured woman – with knee hyperextension!
I giggled when I saw this – and became immensely heartened. Why take yoga any more seriously than I take anything else? Why not continue to use the practice to enjoy my body – and gently reject those voices that seek to tell me I’m not good enough, not quite there, not quite “right”?
It is so easy to respond to direct or indirect criticism – to “constructive” or not-so constructive criticism – by immediately believing something is wrong with us. A perfect person would look this way, or act this way. A good yogini wouldn’t fidget, or get bored or irritated. A good yogini would push themselves gently and never under- or over-work. They should be able to do this asana, or that. Their arms, or tummy, or knees – should look like other people’s arms, or tummy, or knees. If a yogini can’t master a pose, she should make sure to comment on it, and to try to get it “fixed”, so the teacher knows she is trying.
You get my drift.
It is wonderful to explore the body and what it can do. Teachers (and doctors, and fellow students, and yoga authors) have much to teach me. But they are in my employ – not the other way around.
I am not worried about hurting my body. Injuries come, no matter how careful we are. I plan to play in my body. To care for my body – to stretch and grow and learn. To make mistakes, and to hopefully heal. I guarantee you no author in a yoga journal, no web-based doctor, no fellow student, and no beloved teacher, cares more about my knees – and my body – than I! I trust myself, and I recommit to trusting myself, another day.
So for today: I figure if Nefertiti could be worshipped and venerated for her beauty for about 2500 years – then my knees are beautiful too!
Just the way they are.