The above is a quote I keep in my email signature. Over the past year, I have had to examine, define, redefine and in one case defend if I felt this was true. And trust me, I see the irony here in running a Bootcamp for Change workshop. After all, Yoga is a science of being, of tools & techniques to reach self-actualization. As a letter from one of my students case aptly pointed out to me:
"As living breathing human entities, we are endowed with these magnificent gifts,- mind and body….Self-improvement is a responsibility; stagnation is a sad waste. Self-acceptance and self-improvement are not mutually exclusive; they can and do work in tandem. So, therefore, I find your statement – ‘Yoga is about self-acceptance, not self-improvement.', to be facile."
In August of this year (2011), I took a week-long course with Rod Stryker, entitled "The Yoga of Fulfillment; The Four Desires" which is an intensive course that examines who you are at the soul level, what your soul really wants/needs out of life and ways to achieve it. According to the scriptures, each soul has a specific purpose, desire to fulfill. According to Rod, desire, is not a bad thing. Without desire you would not be here, that one sperm which beat out all the thousand of other sperm, would not have fertilized that egg that is now you. Without desire, why get out of bed in the morning?
Yoga is a paradox, at the one end of the spectrum we are told to accept what is, to let go, to just be, and yet, our desire to change something is what brought us to our first yoga class in the first place. Our desire may be to remove back pain, to relieve stress, or to get the tight yoga butt but, in all, there is a desire for something. I first got into yoga as way to get my bum off the couch and I had no idea it would lead me here.
So, I have had to question my own belief is yoga about self-acceptance, or is it really about self-improvement? While I agree with my student above that they work in tandem, the best place to start in a state of self-acceptance. Yoga requires that you be honest about the present moment, to be aware, so that one day, the layers of paint will peel away and you can see you for who you really are.
Allowing space for what is, feelings of love, of hate are the same: both have stories, labels, memories attached. With these stories, we identify, create a habit, and then as Yogi Bhajan says the habit then makes you.
So what we need to do is to get honest, to see our patterns for what they are, without judgment. Yoga provides a way to do this, the postural practice is just one of many starting points, and is not an end in itself.
From self-acceptance, self-improvement will follow. Through daily practice, this is how we start to make real change; like the laundry it just can't be done once. I can not think of anyone who scaled a mountain in one leap, small daily steps made the way to the summit. What it requires is an open mind and a sense of humor, and yes, a certain amount of discipline.
If, however, we our only focus on self-improvement, we may become easily disappointed as our expectations may not mesh up the results; we can become disappointed and even give it up altogether. Or we may push ourselves beyond where we are meant to go, hurt ourselves and/or drive ourselves crazy. I can personally speak from experience on this account; I practiced for many years with an over-abundance of drive to improve, to get myself into that posture and wound up hurting myself in the process. Once I took the ego out of the equation, approached the practice and my body with a welcoming attitude then the practice healed and helped me.
No matter what the desire is that brings you to yoga, no matter how shallow it may be, it is a good thing - and if you can be honest about your motivation, even better. Yoga is a path, not an achievement, it is a practice of self-discovery, exploration and with acceptance who knows where it can take you.
So in the final end, I have decided to keep quote in my email, Yoga, in my humble opinion is about self-acceptance, and not self-improvement.
The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. ~ William Arthur Ward