Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mesquites and Mangroves...More on the Instagram Challenge

In my last post, "No Pictures for this Yogi," I addressed MY OWN reluctance to engage in the kinds of Instagram and Facebook Yoga Pose challenges that have been circulating online. I did so because I had been wrestling with my own demons, ego and temptation, and I wanted to clarify for myself why I felt the way that I did.  As a writer, I often find that the only way for me to make sense of things is to give them words, and my last blog was my exploration of a topic that was unsettled for me. When I went on to publish, it also became public, and since it did, it has sparked a mountain of reaction.

Some of the feedback has been very positive. Many people sent me notes to let me know that they felt the same, but much of it has been negative. Some people who I love, admire and respect felt judged for posting pictures, and they felt like the blog was aimed at them. Today's post is meant to clarify anything that may have been misunderstood.

Let me be clear:  I did not in any way mean to imply that there is anything intrinsically negative, demeaning, shallow or superficial about taking or posting pictures in beautiful yoga poses. I know that many of you have used these challenges as tools to help you grow your practice physically, emotionally and spiritually. I know that for many of you it has been more of a lesson in humility than ego as you post pictures of yourselves in less than perfect alignment. I know that for many of you it has helped you reclaim a sense of place, a feeling of belonging to a community, a visibility that you may have shied away from for years. Those are all beautiful and amazing benefits, and I honor your willingness to engage in that exploration. In some ways I even envy your ability to do so in a way that is uplifting.

FOR ME, engaging with yoga through pictures like this would not have been healthy. I say this with the utmost humility and recognition that I have much inner work left to do. For many years, I bought into the myth of superficiality that is pervasive in our culture. I believed that if I was thin enough and pretty enough, if I wore the right shoes and the right brand names, that I would be happy. When I began to practice yoga, I became less concerned with how my body looked and more concerned with what it could do. But even then, I felt like if I could stretch far enough, balance well enough, flow freely enough, assume inversions, bend backwards, and bind, I would be satisfied. I spent hours working towards a "perfection" that I know is completely unattainable.  I am not proud of those attitudes. It has taken a lot of effort and self inquiry to overcome them and embrace the truth that spirit and consciousness resist form and tangible expression. Nevertheless, I remain profoundly aware that the demon is not vanquished but merely subdued, and I know that for me a challenge that requires me to post pictures of myself everyday would feed the worst of me, not the best.

Just like plants and trees, human beings derive nourishment and find what they need to grow in various ways. Some trees, like the Mesquite, throw down a tap root 60 feet deep. They gather what they need to fulfill their potential from dark and unseen places. Some trees are more like the Mangrove. They spread their roots along the surface above the ground and can nourish themselves in the open air visible to all. Both trees are beautiful, both are growing, both are gathering what they need to thrive and develop.  It seems that yogis are like this too. I am more of a Mesquite, but that doesn't make me value the Mangroves any less.

I think this is an important discussion. If there is one thing we ought to have gained from our yoga practice, it is the awareness that nothing should be beyond examination. One of my teachers talks frequently of the necessity for "ruthless" self-observation. If after engaging in that kind of inquiry you find that an Instagram challenge is useful to you, I applaud you, and I will be the first one to "like" your post. But I hope that as a community, we can also bring some awareness to why these poses are valuable. Perhaps a sentence or two about what it means to you, about what you hope the observer will "see" in it, about your journey. Let's give it a context and help people understand what this practice is all about.

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