Every ones in a while a photo of a beautiful woman in Eka pada Sirsasana (one leg behind the head) with Pattabhi Jois quote ‘’Body not stiff, mind stiff’’ pops up on my facebook news feed. I am sure you know which one I mean as it seems to be very popular in our global yoga community. I have to admit that I get a bit annoyed every time I see it. Not because it is a bad photo, or a bad quote – I think it is brilliant – but because it seems to be one of the most misinterpreted quotes ever. I say this after having to, in numerous occasions, explain it to students of mine that seem to believe what Guruji meant was that there is no limit to what our body can do if our mind is not stiff (or open, free), and that in that case one should be able to - at least straighten ones legs in Paschimottanasana, if not put both legs behind one’s head.
The question often comes from less flexible female students that seem to feel there is something wrong with them (and their mind) since, no matter how much they practice and try to be open they just cannot go to the same depths in postures as their next-mat- neighbour does.
Having to recently explain ones again that we are all different and that the freedom of body doesn’t mean how well and deep we can perform Hanumanasana, Kurmasana or any other asana I wondered what happened. When did yoga students became so obsessed with asana? And why is this quote being used to say that there is something wrong with us, that we are lazy or undisciplined if we feel tired and don't get up at 5 am to sweat on the mat for a few hours?! }Why is it that some people think that when your body is telling you that everything hurts and that it feels too tired to practice – it is actually your stiff mind that is refusing to do asana practice, therefore, you should just ignore it and unroll the mat anyways (an actual blog post). When you fight off your stiff mind and go for that Kurmasana TWICE ignoring the pain (it’s only the mind playing tricks on you!) you have made some great progress and service to your body. Perhaps. But perhaps you should have rested. I'm sure your body would be more grateful.
So, what the hell happened? When did yoga become a competitive sport? I believe at the point when teachers, being mislead by their Ego, started teaching 'no pain no gain method'. There was an interesting tread today on my facebook news feed. It was a comment tread between a yoga community about how deep our performance of asana should be in order to avoid injuries. Some really good points and thoughts were shared by most involved. But, than the group’s teacher commented and basically said: ‘no pain no gain’. Seriously? What happened with sthira sukham asanam? He is not alone. Unfortunately I know a few more.
So I guess, with that kind of teachers out there, who believe that yoga is about asana and that while performing that asana with great discipline which sometimes leads to pain and injury, you are reaching some higher goal - no wonder there are misled students. Jesus.
All I can say to the teachers out there that are obviously missing the point and instead of teaching the students how NOT TO injure themselves are teaching 'no pain no gain' method is this: your body may not be stiff, but your mind sure is. Go back to reading yamas & niyamas. Ones you have read them and perhaps understood them see if you can live by them. That should be your yoga. Than go back to Surya namaskara A!
It is true that our bodies hold so much potential, but that has nothing to do with an asana in a book or a poster performed by somebody else. Write your own book. Do the best you can do and not the best your friend on the next mat can do. You are unique and beautiful as is your body. Love it, and make love to it on the mat. Do not rape it. That will lead nowhere than to trauma that you’ll have to deal with 20 years from now. Be a good person. Love yourself and love others. That’s all the yoga you need.
Yoga is an internal practice, the rest is just a circus. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois