(OR: Why Yoga Classes May Actually Engender a Kind of Collective Beneficial Trance State.)
If we are being truthful, one reason I don't post photos of myself, as much as I'm comfortable in my own skin most of the time (especially when I am doing yoga) is when I see a photo of myself in an asana/posture, I get a little uncomfortable and self-conscious.
A self-critical, cynical voice in my head says something like, "Your knees are hyperextended! And there's a little bit of stiffness in your neck! AND you look thick around the middle. AND you look old!!"
(And, btw, I would never judge another student as I judge myself: we are our own worst critics.)
In fact, it's a perfectly good execution of this posture: I experienced free breathing, and a real sense of lightness and connection when I was experiencing it - a kind of trance state was happening in this moment.
Thing is, ALL of us are conditioned to fit into a rigid cultural paradigm about what is "correct" or "proper" or "acceptable" about how we should "look" (and not just when we are doing yoga, but, well, all the time.)
And we are all heavily influenced by digital media and representations of the human body, and how ours "stacks up" in comparison. All. The. Time.
Not to mention, the bodies we see in the ethereal realm of the internet are not always as they appear to be! These lies of omission and fakery are causing us and our children a lot of mental and emotional damage.
So, I also don't post pictures of myself doing postures that often, because:
The tendency for both yoga (and now, "mindfulness") to be fully focused on physical improvement only reinforces the roots of the cultural discontent most of us feel about our bodies.
And, as long as yoga being marketed and practiced by primarily focusing on the physical, we miss out. Utilizing the gifts of yoga to help shift and clear our veiled ideas about ourself and our world, can help us change the very conditions that are making us unhappy - otherwise, it only exacerbates our uber-competitive, individualistic culture that separates and alienates.
In short, perpetuating these myths does a huge disservice to the real freedom that yoga practices bring to the dedicated student - and from that more clear and present student, to our shared, collective, consensus Reality that we are co-creating together right now.
Yoga is not postures: it is a state of being, one that is intrinsic to our lifelong wellbeing, to our ability to become truly human, and I suggest, to our ability to become a better and more highly evolved species collectively, too. Yoga may be potentially experienced by anyone, regardless of how they look, or how well or "poorly" their body works, or where and how they exist within the socio-economic strata of our world. And, yoga done in community, when everyone in the space is breathing and moving in synchrony, has the potential to create a deeper and more profound experience of merging and connection within a group or community, inspiring evolution on more than just an individualistic level.
So, yoga is both an individally and culturally beneficial trance state that arises through a series of spiritually oriented repetitive practices, which do include a somatic component (because we can only experience this state within the body.) But, the physical component of asana is of far less importance to the ultimate goal of yoga practice, which is intended to ultimately bring the practitioner into a state of kaivalya, liberation, freedom - or Sat-Chit-Ānanda - truth-consciousness-bliss.
So, although I use the frame of postural practice as a method or lens, my goal as a teacher is to help students hone and move their awareness inwards, to become quiet and yes, entranced - to find the fullness of freedom within - regardless of how it "looks" on the outside - while in non-judgemental community with one another.
There is a freedom to be found and experienced in yoga classes that is beyond cultural baggage, beyond the cynical, judging, conditioned voice in our heads that too often tells us grumpily what our bodies "should" do and how they "should" look. This freedom is vairagya, dispassion, letting go of constraints and conditions and fears - and it needs to be part and parcel of yoga practice so that we can attain, through yoga, the heights of what it means to be truly human.
But then, you can't take a picture of that feeling, you can only experience it. So, come to class!
Abhyasa vairagyabyam tannirodhah - "Practice and dispassion lead to the quelling of the mind-stuff." Yoga Sutra 1.12