Many of us turn to yoga to help calm our minds, stretch out our bodies and get the adrenaline flowing in a purposeful and thoughtful way. We understand that the ancient practice is revered by millions as it encourages a deeper understanding of our bodies and minds and helps us look awesome in hotpants. Wait, what? Things may have got a little confused along the way. As with any age old tradition yoga has been subject to some radical changes along its five thousand year journey to the here and now. And why not? In order to meet the needs of its public yoga has evolved and been bent into some pretty funky positions that are a world away from its roots and those written in Patanjali’s sutras or indeed those outlined in the Bhagavad Gita. And what a fabulous transformation, where once there were a few different ‘schools’ of yoga now you can choose from endless varieties; hot, acro, partner, aqua, SUP. The options for the modern yogi are endless. But no matter what yoga you are in to, everybody’s practice can benefit from the mindful approach of non attachment.
Non attachment is a concept that can be found in Buddhism and it refers not simply, as is commonly misconstrued, as the rejection of material wealth and belongings but to a manner of perspective which increases mindfulness and awareness by reducing expectations of outcomes. Put simply it encourages the mind to focus on the world as it is rather than how you think it is. By cultivating non attachment you are able to see emotions, reactions and thoughts for what they are; passing sensations that have no real foundation in the world. By allowing these to pass by like clouds or better still, like bubbles that float away and then pop, you will achieve a clarity of mind based in a fundamental state of truth, rather than the over-complicated, fussy construct of your imagination.
Non attachment is not indifference, it’s not removing yourself from any situation that brings you down or irritates you. Neither is it complacence or ignoring the small things. Non attachment is about acknowledgement, perspective, flexibility, an understanding that we cannot control things. When you stop trying to micro-manage every aspect of your life and accept things as they are you will find a freedom that allows you to grow in any direction, not just in the direction you think is ‘best’ or ‘necessary’. A large part of this is to reduce your expectations. If you are goal-driven, striving endlessly to some specific outcomes then any deviation from this path is going to cause you stress and pain. What if you reject the idea of a goal and instead see what is front of you in the here and now? With no goalposts to aim for you can just enjoy the kickabout. At risk of sounding like a fortune cookie, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. The futility of our passion for drive and achievement is simply summed up: “Things are as they are, we suffer because we imagined different.” That’s not to say we shouldn’t create, just that we should not be attached solely to the results.
So where does the yoga come in?! Your yoga practice is an ideal place to shine a light on any destructive behaviours, and the perfect opportunity to familiarise yourself with your ego. Lessons learned on the yoga mat can invariably be extended to all areas of your life and by approaching your practice mindfully you will be amazed at what you can learn about yourself.
So how should we approach our practice differently? Exercising non attachment during your yoga practice means that rather than striving to achieve challenging postures, sacrificing your deep and mindful breath in order to get into a handstand, or comparing the size of your derriere to that of the lady (or gentleman) on the mat next to you you are instead focused on each element of the practice in turn, noticing sensation. A union exists between your body and mind and you are free to enjoy playing on your mat just for the sake of it, not because you are desperate to get in to half bound, inverted hippo pose. By allowing your expectations of your practice to fall away you will allow a new level of awareness and enjoyment to creep in. And serendipitously you will probably find your flexibility and capability will increase. Because your limitations, just like your expectations, don’t really exist in the real world, you have just invented them. By removing boundaries and judgments you can focus on engaging with each moment, adapting to each change and appreciating life’s beauty with no distortion.