is that I know nothing, to paraphrase Socrates, a man in the know.
When it comes to our relationship to asanas, one may realise that a lot of it has to do with:
- what we know
- what we think we know
- what we think we should know
- what we would like to know
- what we don’t know that we know
When I started yoga at my local gym in London a few years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing at all, and had close-to-zero body awareness. Most of the classes were multi-level, which gave me that daunting notion that everyone else knew what they were doing. On low days, I felt like a total body idiot. I wanted to know what they knew and make my stupid body do what they did.
So I stubbornly went back to class until I started to know enough to start to get profoundly fascinated and transformed by what my stupid body had to teach me.
Michael Stone in his workshop mentioned that yoga attracts perfectionists, the ‘never enough’ crowd which I belong to. I googled the word and found this definition: ‘perfectionists derive a very real sense of pleasure from the labours of painstaking effort.’ Sounds familiar?
Perfectionists love an all engrossing activity that offers an infinite array of refinements. There is also something quite obsessive-compulsive about yoga: the very repetitive and ritualised nature of it. You go to several classes a week and listen to the same cues for years, but somehow each time you hear them, they sound new, and you apply yourself to them as diligently as you can.
Now that I’m doing my teacher training, I’m learning those cues in the hope that one day, I’ll repeat them to other people and share what I know, what I’ve learnt painstakingly, with much effort.
Cues can be quite deceitful, though. Our mind and body memorise them and hardly question their purposes. Do you know why you do all of the things you do in an asana? We can hear and perform a cue hundreds of times sometimes without asking ourselves why.
When their meanings are suddenly unravelled, it can be a real epiphany – at least for me, I’m easily awestruck – another piece falls into place in the puzzle of an asana or a family of asanas.
I was marvelled by an interview of B.K.S. Iyengar in the movie Enlighten Up – which I would only recommend for its bonus features -, where he was explaining that he recently had a revelation about the alignment of the ribcage in headstands. His face was lit by pure glee as he admitted this. I just thought ‘wow, he’s still learning and seem to find so much joy from it’. This gives a lot of hope to yoga perfectionists everywhere.
Before we started our practice with Michael Stone, he invited us to forget all we knew about yoga. It felt incredibly liberating and brought everyone to the same level, as it should.
We should apply this Socratic principle to our practice and step on our mats with a virgin mind because this is how we’ll pay better attention to what our body knows. We will continue learning and get to know all those levels of refinement that give perfectionists so much pleasure, and above all joy.