While practicing yoga improves our lives, yoga in and of itself is not a self-improvement program. Its positive impacts are undeniable: releasing unnecessary attachments, learning discipline, becoming aware of our bodies, calming our minds, exploring our thoughts and feelings. These are just a few ways yoga transforms our lives. But let’s not forget our Yoga Culture mantra, which ends, “You were perfect all along, now you see it.” It’s not that yoga improves you. It changes your self-perception, leading you to realize that you are completely and unabashedly enough.
Our mantra starts, “Yoga is magical but not magic.” We imagine that yoga throws the magician’s sheet over our imperfect selves; and when it’s removed, suddenly we are enough. Ta-da! It feels like transformation. Not quite. In reality, we’re realizing that we are enough. That we always were, long before we even considered stepping into our first yoga class, and long after we took our 101st class.
Halfway through the mantra, there’s the statement, “True change is the unveiling of the real you.” “Change” isn’t really change at all. It’s seeing. It’s lifting the veil of avidya - ignorance, or not knowing - and gazing at the clear countenance of yourself. That magician’s sheet is a veil that falls over you; and when it’s removed, there you are - the same you. What has changed is your perception.
Next statement: “The real you is your perfectly flawed self.” Some of us struggle with perfectionism, myself included. But it turns out that “perfect” is a misconception as well. It’s defined by what we learned growing up and what we see on social media and in magazines - glossy depictions of a life better than ours, sometimes shaped by our parents’ insecurities and society’s false idols. Useless at best.
I attended the Accessible Yoga teacher training last week. I was reminded once again, as I need to be on occasion, that yoga is not a self-improvement program. Yoga says we are enough, right now – no matter our shape, size, color, culture, physical ability, temporary or permanent injuries. We practice to feel better. We may strive for change. But what we’re doing is accepting ourselves. Coming to an understanding that we've been perfect all along. Now we see it.