Our fragile little brains are constantly being bogged down with “ideals.” By this, I mean we are receiving a stream of messages — from the world we live in, from friends and colleagues, from our own deep-rooted memories and experiences — about who and what we’re supposed to be, and when and how.
For example, you’re an ideal mother. You’re sweet, a modern-day June Cleaver in heels (or wedge booties, since you’re an on-trend mama), devoted to feeding your children only organic vegetables and homemade hummus. The next moment you’re a fierce lioness, guardian of your “No iPad at the dinner table” policy, a rule that’s harsh, but fair. You’re gentle and loving, and at once swift and justice-abiding.
Let’s say you also work in an office. As an ideal employee, you’re committed to your tasks and to being on time and being a team player. You’re smart and sophisticated, and somehow you’re also really really fun, playing hooky and taking 2-martini lunches every now and then with your girlfriends. You’re dedicated to work, serious work, and also hilariously fun-seeking.
And speaking of your girlfriends, you’re a perfect friend. You have just enough time to split a cupcake with a different pal each night, and also time to work off that half of a dessert at PowerBootCampExpress, right before heading home to prepare healthful yet irresistible homemade meals and getting into bed to read a few chapters of an important novel and then getting a solid 8 hours. You’re an ideal.
Ideals exist in the yoga community too. As yogis, we need to be lithe and limber and physically fit with impeccable posture and the flattest abs. We’re also meant to have extensive knowledge in ancient texts and Sanskrit and yoga theory, but with a practical understanding of how it applies to our modern lives. And we’re supposed to look like we’re constantly living in bliss, in a state of pure calmness and ease (despite our insecurities and angsts and the lines at Whole Foods). The yogic “ideal” is the best of everything: strength and flexibility, calm and energy, connected and detached, all at once. Yogis mask this seemingly impossible feat with language like “being balanced” (you won’t ever hear a yogi talking about being “ideal,” but being “balanced” is something you hear all the time).
Since this month we’re focussing on Tadasana (Mountain Pose) in the body and Savasana (Relaxation Pose) in the brain, I’m presenting two opposites not as a way to “achieve” (another no-no word in yoga, one does not achieve) perfection and balance and idealism, but as a way to bring body and brain to the same level. There’s a misperception that the body is a lesser vessel than the mind, that body is low and mind is high, that spiritual practices take precedence over physical ones. I’m proposing a shift in perception, to say that caring for and nurturing body can be an act of spirituality profound and powerful. Your body, after all, is a temple, didn’t you know?
Tadasana body requires some work; no one ever obtained a Tadasana body in Savasana. But you can access a Savasana brain in a Tadasana body. Movement, strength and stretch, breath, blood, heartbeat. These are the visceral, material parts of your soul. What better reason could there be to practice?