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When is a basic yoga pose too basic?

“When is a yoga pose too basic?” This was the crux of Teresa’s question who wrote with a common concern…

“I was doing triangle pose in class last week, and the teacher asked us to come into the pose with our hand on a block. But I wasn’t even getting a good stretch in this basic yoga pose. So, I brought my hand down to the floor and the teacher asked me to come back up on the block. I don’t get it. Isn’t it okay to go deeper in a pose to get a good stretch?”

Is it "Okay?” Yes, of course it is. “Wise?” Well, that may be a different matter.

You see, the first question we need to ask ourselves in this situation is this: Are we interested in getting a good stretch, or do we want to practice yoga? Or maybe more important: are we interested in longer hamstrings, or do we want a happier life. Because stretching will get you the first, but yoga will get you the latter. We have to remember that yoga’s real value lies not in the stretch, but in its ability to help us cultivate inner peace—specifically, an inner peace that doesn’t rely on circumstances (including the circumstance of getting a good stretch).

And what is so easy to miss is that the thing that is prompting you to go deeper and get that good stretch is the exact same thing that is robbing you of so much inner peace and happiness in your life: the ego-mind. Here’s the real problem: the ego-mind wants what it wants… - It wants the traffic to move at a good clip. - It wants a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to throw down its gullet.

- It wants to a yoga pose with that deliciously intense stretch. And when it doesn’t get what it wants, it can create truckloads of optional and unnecessary frustration, anxiety, and struggle in our lives. In short, when the ego-mind doesn’t get what it wants it throws a tantrum as its way to get you to give it what it wants…

A tantrum of impatience when it’s caught in traffic… (designed to get you to change lanes or get off the darned freeway) A tantrum of frustration when the barista is taking her sweet time… (thrown to get you to snap at her so she’ll pick up the pace) A tantrum of blame when the dirty dishes are left in the sink…

(nudges you to yell at the offender so it doesn’t happen again) Yes, the ego-mind and its unrelenting tantrums are one of the greatest causes of completely unnecessary misery. Ever.

All caused by the ego-mind’s inability to be calmly present with life as it is. But too, this is why yoga is so powerful. It’s because, rightly used, yoga trains the terrorizing ego-mind to comes into a more harmonious relationship with all of life—even with things that might not look, feel, smell, or taste the way the ego-mind may think they should. It is this inner transformation that has nothing to do with your hamstrings or your balance or your flexibility that can change your entire life. Truly. But, here’s what’s not talked about enough. To train the ego-mind to be more relaxed when things don’t go its way, you need things that don’t go its way. That’s right, life’s so-called obstacles are really opportunities for transformation.

In the same way that the oyster needs the irritant of the grain of sand to create the pearl, we too need the irritant of the disappointment to create that more harmonious and calm and fulfilling way of being. Whether that disappointment is a pokey barista, a postponed promotion, or a yoga pose without the stretch, the inner practice of yoga would invite us not to fix the problem, but rather use it to train the mind to be at ease, present, and accepting with that very situation. So, next time you’re served up a healthy dose of disappointment, whether on your yoga mat or off, remember to say “thank you” then, take a page out of the playbook of the ancient yoga masters and pause and breathe and and show that ol’ ego-mind what it means to live in harmony with all that is.

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