By Shakti Mhi
Throughout my years of practicing yoga, when people found out about my practice, their first question usually was usually whether or not I could ‘put my foot around my neck’.
One can easily get the idea by looking at the yoga magazines, studio brochures and the endless yoga-themed commercials or through surfing the web; that the ultimate aim of yoga is in fact to bring your leg around your neck; it’s about getting the rubber body.
In the old days the most prominent feature of a yogi who immersed himself in the higher practice of yoga was his powerful eyes; looking through you, drawing your attention to existence which may be experienced beyond the form of the body.
Today you meet endless images of lovely yogis and yoginis from all ages, cultures and styles, with their legs rapped around their neck as their smiling eyes seem to say “I reached the Everest of yoga”. In many ways it is a process very similar to that of getting to the top of the Everest.
You go through long practice and training which starts with the ambitions of the ego. As you climb the mountain of Yoga towards the goal of achieving the most obscure body postures you face a high risk of injuring the knees and hips, getting sciatica, compressing the spine etc. and possibly ending with overly loose joints. There is always a risk of never achieving the goal (because of skeletal structure, scar tissue etc) which may lead to great disappointment and the feeling of being a failure.
The question is “When finally we fulfill the desire of the mind, and our foot is hanging around our neck….. then what?” Has the leg around the neck freed us from suffering? Is it helping us to master our mind? Are we acting without reacting? Is the wrapping of the leg around the neck engaging us with our higher self to become the ultimate observer who knows that we are not this body? Is the heel close enough to our brain to free us from the fear of death?
What are the reasons for the western yoga teachers identifying their abilities with the performance of the body? Is it because we have nothing wise to say from our authentic experience – so instead, we show off our physical form as we often do outside the yoga studio setting. Is it because we are so programmed to identify with our body as who we are that we apply it to our spiritual practice instead of applying the wisdom of the spiritual path to our life?
Or maybe after we started our yoga practice, our ego got so mesmerized by the body’s performance, that we forgot why we started the practice from the beginning.
The practice of the yoga asanas (postures) is for the purpose of maintaining our body so it is in a good health, and free of toxins and blockages so that prana energy can flow through and widen our perception towards life and existence. The body is a great vehicle for us to use through the spiritual journey.
When people buy a car to take them to different destinations, they take care of the car so it stays in good shape and is safe to travel in. Some people get obsessed with their car, blurring the definition between the object and themselves. Fully identified with the car’s look and performance, they start buying gadgets for it, investing time into it, while the car becomes a source of their pride, worries, attachments and suffering. The body is the vehicle for the self – do not confuse it with the self.
In closing, think about this: if an extremely flexible body is in fact the aim of the ancient yoga then we should all be worshipping the teenage contortionists in Cirque de Soleil.
Prana Yoga College