Minimalist Yoga Practice

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I am a firm believer that a philosophy like minimalism applies to every aspect of our lives.  From the clothes we wear, to what we eat, to how we decorate, minimalism can influence it all.

Of all things, I find that minimalism has influenced my yoga practice.  A certain amount of “I don’t care what you think” is present in pretty much anyone who would identify as a minimalist.  Nowhere is this more evident in my life than in my yoga practice.  As someone who does not look like the “average yogi,” it can be intimidating to step into a yoga studio, even as the teacher.  It’s hard not to feel judged.  I used to strain and push myself into poses I was not ready for.  I would feel like a failure for not taking the most advanced version of every pose.  I would refuse props and modifications.

As I progressed in my practice, I realized that the most advanced yogis weren’t huffing and puffing or holding their breath, straining to make themselves do what the teacher is doing.  The advanced yogis didn’t take the most advanced version of every pose.  They didn’t judge themselves and force themselves into the pose because they could do it last week.  They are mindful of their body and only do what feels good.  They recognize what feels good and works in their body this week might not work next week, and that’s ok.  They realize there are lots of reasons for this—maybe that pose was later in the sequence last week and they were more warmed up; maybe for whatever reason, they are not mentally or physically 100% today.  The lack of comparison that is so essential to practice minimalism also serves me well in my yoga practice.

I, like so many other people, love the gorgeous, well-curated highlight reel of a famous yogi’s Instagram page.  Perfect bodies contorted into perfect poses with perfect scenery.  I understand why people envy those yogis and want to be able to do the pose they saw on Instagram.  I have very little use for most “advanced” poses.  There are very few out there that do not have a more “basic” pose with nearly identical benefits and less risk of injury.  Keep it simple.

Having been involved in multiple car accidents in the past, there are limits to what I can ask my neck and shoulders to do.  Shoulderstand in particular, but many inversions are not part of my practice.  I used to be embarrassed when a teacher would offer several inversion options and I would stay in “waterfall” pose, simply laying with legs lifted towards the ceiling, or maybe “sleeping tiger,” with both arms and legs lifted.  I wasn’t the only one, but as other yogis around me would effortlessly press up into a headstand or shoulderstand, I would close my eyes and judge myself harshly.

Now, I have no problem modifying if I need a modification (or even if the modification just makes it more comfortable).  I am unashamed to take a break when I need it; stay where I feel comfortable, even if that’s not the most advanced version of the pose; skip a vinyasa if I need to/want to; reject poses altogether if they have the potential to aggravate old injuries.

Keeping things simple is key advice for all aspects of life.  When you break it down, that’s really what minimalism is all about; keeping it simple.  Eliminating the excess to concentrate on the important stuff.  That applies to everything.  Even Yoga.

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