By Sangeetha Saran
All types of yoga have their beginning, intermediate, and expert level students. Of course, this is not to say that any student of the practice ever fully masters every single aspect -- saying this would be to defeat the purpose of yoga, which is not to "complete" or "win" anything, but to continue to grow and change dynamically, as one's interior and exterior lives continue to evolve.
Yoga is supposed to mold and contour to the changing and evolving self. Not the other way around, as many students believe: We are not supposed to change ourselves and strain ourselves for our practice; instead, our practice will change naturally as we change. This may not seem like an important mental distinction to make, but it absolutely is. Those students who are constantly trying to force themselves and their bodies to become "better," in order to master a difficult pose or class, or in order to match the perceived skill level of those around them, are not treating their minds and bodies with the proper compassion.
Asked to think of the concept of "compassion" in yoga, you are likely thinking of compassion towards others -- is the teacher treating the students with respect? Are the students treating one another with respect before and after class? However, much as in other aspects of life, we overlook the idea that compassion must also be directed inwardly. Don't mentally degrade and abuse yourself -- "I'm not good enough," "I can't believe I still can't do this when X does it so easily," etc. We are all our own worst critics, but part of learning self-compassion -- in fact, one of the core ideas at the heart of all yoga -- is learning to neutralize those negative thoughts in favor of projecting openness and goodwill.
If you find yourself looking away from your mat and scrutinizing your performance compared to that of others -- the way her legs are straighter, or he reached a deeper bend -- compel yourself to return to, refocus on, and love yourself. Your growth and change should not be policed or stifled by self-doubt; instead, it should unconsciously occur all on its own, and through self-respect.
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