About 20 years ago, I struck up a conversation with a fellow gym rat I noticed had gained a tremendous amount of lean muscle. He was the stereotypical skinny guy turned gladiator.
“What are you doing to get that lean and big?” I asked. His response was a rant that outlined his radical approach to getting lean and big, which was, by any measure, abusive: extreme dieting, toxic supplements, and an over-kill training regimen. “I’m going to get huge and ripped, man!” he said. The thought occurred to me: “What then?”
So I asked him, “What then?”
“Come on man! Getting huge and shredded is what its all about!” he said, then shook his head and walked away.
Like him, I’d spend sometimes 3 hours a day in the gym, 6 days per week, working my tail off to attain and maintain a physique that I thought was ideal. I did this compulsively for 23 years, rationalizing that it was for my health. At first it felt great, later it became an addiction, and eventually it grew into little more than a time consuming chore. My efforts in the gym ended everyday in lethargy and pain.
Honestly, I didn’t really have a good reason to do it. Underneath it all I secretly knew that it was just trying to resolve a deep insecurity with vanity. The ironic thing about resolving insecurity with external appearances is this: you’re actually practicing being insecure. Anything you practice, you get better at.
The Power Yoga practice helped me break free of that cycle.
True yoga practice (as prescribed by the original guru, Patanjali) is the science of quieting the mind. Yoga therefore has absolutely nothing to do with how the body looks, physical abilities, or achieving a peak posture or high level of flexibility or fitness. In fact, asana is mentioned only a few times in the 196 verses that make up the Yoga Sutras, and only to a cursory extent.
We live in an insanely competitive culture, so it make senses that a lot of people these days are bringing a competitive, insecure, ego-driven mentality with them to the mat. My question is: “What then?” Are you really going to feel better about yourself when you finally stick Visvamitrasana? And if you do, isn’t it just shallow pride?
Do you realize that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you as you are, right now? Can you see this truth and accept yourself as perfect? Why not just use the physical practice as the great masters intended: to simply take care of the body. Can you be satisfied with simply maintaining a little basic physical functionality? And more importantly, can you stay disciplined enough to stick with it as a meditation?
Still got the competitive bug? How about setting the goal of being able to tie your own shoes in your 80’s, and actually being able to stand up to yell Bingo!