Three years of shadow yoga

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend two back-to-back yoga workshops by Emma Balnaves and Shandor Remete. I started writing up my thoughts from the two workshops at the time and (as is often the case) didn't manage to finish off writing about the experience.

But rather than try to describe the workshops themselves, which is something of an impossible task, I want to talk more generally about my shadow yoga journey.

A couple of years ago, I wrote
I have an addictive personality, and there's no doubt I've latched onto Shadow yoga as my latest obsession. [...] For the moment I feel stronger and more flexible than I've ever been, and yet there's still so many aspects of our classes in which it seems like I'm completely hopeless.
Many things have changed since then, but I'm still passionate about yoga. Should one call oneself a yogi? According to Shandor, of course not. That title is restricted to one who has attained the fruits of yoga. People like me are only pretending to be yogis until that time comes.

I still feel stronger and more flexible than ever—indeed, the levels of strength and flexibility I had attained when I wrote the above I have far surpassed. This is one of the reasons that yoga has sustained my interest these last years. While my progress has gone through periods of slower growth, and during particularly busy or holiday times I may have even regressed, in general my yoga abilities have never stopped improving.

It's a very slow and gradual change. After months of getting nowhere with a pose such eka pada koundinyasana, one day both legs lift from the ground and balance is achieved for a brief moment. Week by week, the wrists strengthen, the shoulders relax, the breathing slows, and the pose becomes not a challenge but a reference point. I may now be further from that reference point than when I practised that pose weekly, but I know it is inside of me.

But why are we learning these sometimes strange postures? Do I really become a better person if I can put my legs behind my head? Shandor is very clear on this aspect of yoga: asanas are a tool for working with the body, and with time and practise one learns the utility of each. As more advanced asanas are learnt, their beginner's counterparts can be left by the wayside—until such time, due to injury or mishap, that you may need to go back to basics for a while. But you need only use the asanas that you need.

The consequences of this are obvious. If we spent all our time working with asanas, we eventually run out of time to do any more yoga. Shandor and Emma both emphasised the fact that with sufficient application, asana work can be performed quickly and efficiently. It is detrimental repeating poses when doing them well just once would be more beneficial. It's easy to cheat in a yoga class, and progress stagnates. No-one is responsible for this but you.

Time to stop cheating.