This article first appeared on elephant journal here.
As a teacher and long-time yoga student, I will attest to its many beautiful gifts.
However, there are many things that yoga cannot give us.
Ten Things Yoga Won’t Do.
1. Yoga will not always offer comfort.
Yoga is not always the zen-like place we sometimes think it is, and it is not always comfortable. Actually, I will say, it is often uncomfortable. Yoga stretches us, brings us to our physical limitations, tests our strength and our endurance. We breathe, we focus on the breath and just when we are dying to come out of a pose, we realize we can stay for one more inhale, one more exhale.
Yoga will not support our control freak habits.
With each practice, elements within us change—elements outside of us change. We may not like the sequence our instructor has designed for the class, but with it we flow. Yoga is an opportunity to release the need to control that which we cannot manipulate anyway (the music, the asanas, our balance, our flexibility), and an opportunity to experience life in a greater state of surrender.
For when we can let go, we allow the magic to unfold in front of us (and within us).
3. Yoga will not feed into codependent patterns.
We must stand on our own. Though great communities are built through yoga, and we connect with those practicing around us—on our mat, we stand alone. The experience of the practice is largely internal, and here we must do the work ourselves.
Many of us have codependent patterns in our relationships. This can show up as anxiety—when the phone doesn’t ring when we want it to, expectations of another person to fulfill our desires, or the feeling that we would be lost on our own. These are sentiments that are simply not supported or cultivated on the mat.
On our mats, we are given the opportunity to be strong, to examine weakness, to develop balance, to ground, to practice surrender—all qualities that, when brought into a codependent situation, will help to dissolve fear and allow one to stand strong.
4. Yoga does not offer consistency.
Yesterday, I felt flexible and awesome and moved through my asana practice with grace and ease.
Today, my hamstrings are tight, the muscles in my back are sore and I find that I fatigue more quickly.
Such is a yoga practice. It waxes and wanes, as we move through our lives, and the practice I have today is completely unique to any practice I will have in the future. This allows us to turn inward and experience the sensations, tune into what the body is telling us, and direct our breath and attention to the tight spaces.
Our practice is not consistent, but neither is life, and in this way yoga is a beautiful reflection of our world.
5. Yoga does not protect us from the unknown.
Through yoga we traverse into the unknown by way of challenging postures, arm balances and inversions. We move outside of the realm of familiarity, and risk, quite literally, falling on our faces. And sometimes, we do—splat onto the mat—-and we see that falling isn’t such a big deal.
Yoga shows us that we can get up, try again and face our fears.
As a yoga practice advances, it becomes clear that many of the challenging asanas were made much more elusive by the stories the ego told us before we got there—“I’m not strong enough for this. I need to do more core work first.” Only to find that many challenging transitions and postures are more about bodily awareness, balance and willingness to take a risk.
6. Yoga does not hand us clarity.
An asana practice does not clear the fog from the more convoluted or confusing parts of our lives.
Instead, it creates a space where stillness is available, where one can, with some willingness and dedication, quiet the mind from the noise in the world. And here, in this space, we can rise into new and clear perspectives.
But it takes the intention of the student, and proper utilization of the stillness, to reach clearer vision.
7. Yoga does not offer much external validation.
We are not often, if ever, congratulated on our yogic advances (except, perhaps, if we post our photos on Instagram).
We live in a world where many us of strive for external validation (promotions at work, admiration from loved ones), but on the mat, this does not matter.
Of greater significance is the internal experience, self-understanding, the snapshot of our inner world. The asanas simply help us to get there. Without these rewards, we are free from having something to prove, at least for an hour within the corners of the mat, a fact that is beautifully liberating.
8. Yoga does not protect us from our dark places.
I’ve cried in my share of yoga classes. And I don’t mean one tear trickling down my cheek, I mean full on, uncontrollable sobs. Fortunately, I’m a silent crier, but that didn’t keep me from drenching my mat. I know I’m not alone here. Yoga is a powerful vehicle for release, for stillness, for space—and what comes up isn’t always roses.
Yoga can allow us to look into our dark, dusty corners and clear out emotional blocks and while this isn’t always pretty, it’s a tremendous aid in emotional healing.
9. Yoga does not offer instant gratification.
We live in a world of quick access to seemingly infinite information and amenities that make our lives easier.
This sense of instant gratification can spark impatience, as our pace grows faster and faster.
Yoga does not abide by these standards.
Want to do a forearm stand? Strengthen the shoulders, back, core, face our fears.
In yoga we learn to accept our practice as it is today, and to be patient as the asanas unfold within us, as we remove the blocks holding us back.
There’s no time stamp on how long this will take, and we learn to allow our practice to flow and advance organically.
10. Yoga does not support stagnant perspectives.
It is difficult to discover yoga, cultivate a regular practice and not begin to see our bodies, life and world differently.
While yoga does not support consistency, it also does not support stagnation, and through a yogic practice, one can broaden perspectives and move through life with more love and less struggle.