I was in a class recently practicing with one of my regular teachers and as we moved through the sequence I got a point where I just knew that handstand was about to come next.
Handstand is new to my practice and right now I can only do it against the wall or with the assistance of the teacher. So when I started to think about having to do a handstand in a few moments, my brain activity and anxiety levels started to pick up.
I started to worry and the monkey mind started - “I wonder if I can sneak over to the wall where I feel comfortable”, “I’m not strong enough to do a handstand without support, I’m weak and stupid”, and “I’m going fall and injure myself and make a fool of myself”, "What kind of Yoga Teacher am I if I can't do this?!".
It, of course, totally took my focus away from my breath and the present moment.
I also noticed that I started to think about how much better my practice (and life overall…) will be once I can achieve the “perfect” handstand and how I’ll just be a “better” Yogi.
After class it set me thinking about this chase for certain Asanas (poses) and it gave me the familiar feeling I used to get when, years ago, I would get obsessed over having the latest shoes or bag or whatever the “must have, on trend” item was. That yearning and desperate feeling, and then when you get it, you are happy for a half a day (if you’re lucky) and then it ends up being just a pair of shoes, like all the others.
The same feeling can happen for Asanas. However, the reality is that being able to do whatever pose you are chasing, is just like the shoes or the bag - it will not change your life. And if you do manage to “achieve” it comfortably, it often ends up being an Asana, just like all the others and you will probably move on to trying to achieve another, more advanced pose.
Yes it can be a milestone of your progress. Yes it can make you feel elated. Yes you can love it and it can become your favourite. But all of the asanas are really just tools – Yoga Sutra 1:2 says “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga”. Not “performing” an Instagram worthy Handstand.
So whatever Asana you are chasing, let it go. It may come one day, it might not. There is nothing wrong with having a goal and working towards it by building physical strength but just remember it probably won’t change your life once you get there! Try not to be too attached.
What might change your life though is the overall strengthening and purifying of the body and mind through regular Yoga practice and using all of this as a tool to “Restrain the…mind-stuff” - the monkey-mind, the uncontrollable thoughts that can lead us into unhealthy places.
There is as much value resting in a Childs Pose with smooth steady breath as there is in an inversion or an extreme backbend, in fact maybe even more...