There’s nothing wrong with a bit of self-improvement at this time of year but don’t forget how brilliant you already are. By Victoria Jackson
I sometimes joke with my students that there are no prizes in yoga. No-one’s going to give you a medal the first time you balance on your hands in Crow Pose, no matter how miraculous it seems to you at the time, and you don’t go to the top of the class when you achieve Yoganidrasana (ankles crossed behind the neck). That’s what I teach, and I speak from my heart in advising this attitude to yoga practice.
But I should probably add a ‘health warning’ to my students that this is a case when they should do as I say, not as I do! Because if there ever were any prizes for yoga, I’m sure I’d rush to the front of the queue to claim one. It’s my personality; I feel the need to prove myself through achievement, however much I try to practice the opposite. So naturally I’m rather proud of a certificate I just received for some yoga-related study. No, it wasn’t for my attainment of Yoganidrasana or any other advanced physical posture, but for passing some small exams in Sanskrit, the original language of yoga.
When my results first came through, friends and family had asked, “what next?” Would I carry on? Did I want to study for a degree? Clearly they know me and my need for achievement very well!
But I didn’t do the study to pass an exam or get a certificate. I really just wanted to have fun learning something new and to experience the excitement that comes from finding you know more than you thought. Plus I’m nerdy enough to think it’s cool to recite bits of the Bhagavad Gita in the original language! I can carry on doing all that by myself, without the pressure of any exam syllabus.
So now that it’s the time of year when many of us feel the need to make new year’s resolutions to better ourselves in various ways, instead of signing up for the next course of study — or working desperately to achieve Yoaganidrasana — I am thinking of the words of the late Maty Ezraty: “Keep in mind that when you practice yoga, you’re not practicing to improve yourself. You are perfect. The practice is there to help you know that.”
The challenge of Sanskrit exams might not have revealed that I am already perfect — in any sense of the word! — but strangely it did help me come to feel that I am good enough right now with all that I am and everything I already have. I don’t need any certificate to prove that.
Victoria Jackson lives and teaches in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals as a vinyasa yoga teacher