The goal of yoga is not the handstand… Or is it?

Man in suit doing a handstand

The Goal of Yoga (No, it’s not the Handstand)

The yoga pose is not the goal. Becoming flexible is not the goal. Standing on your hands is not the goal.

The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil the layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noise it creates. To make peace with who you are. The goal is to love, well … You.

Come to your yoga mat to feel; not accomplish. Shift your focus and your heart will grow.

Rachel Brathen

It is easy to get caught up with focusing on the physical postures when practicing yoga. Popular culture bombards us with daily messages telling us that certain aesthetic qualities and high-achievement equate with worth. It can feel intimidating in this age of social media to be surrounded by images of people perfectly executing difficult yoga postures. The handstand in its various forms seems to have become the holy grail of such. The desire to master it, amongst other impressive looking yoga poses can become almost obsessive in many yoga practitioners. However when success and attainment become the focus, the practice of yoga can become exhausting, shallow, even demoralising. Progress can then feel slow or non-existent and injuries may occur as the body is pushed too far. This is when our mind (or ego) is running the show and our body neglected, rather than felt and listened to. It can take us away from ourselves and the potential that our yoga practice holds for us.

It is refreshing to be reminded that physical mastery is not the goal of yoga. However, we are each unique and going through a vast array of differing life experiences. When this is considered, being told what we should or shouldn’t be focusing on doesn’t feel appropriate. It runs the risk of sounding preachy, judgmental or belittling. It is therefore helpful for each of us to figure out and individually decide what the goal of yoga is.

Wherever we’re at in our practice is part of our journey in yoga and funnily enough, also in life. Maybe we need a phase of focusing on the physical, as it will teach us what we need to learn to get to the next stage of our practice. With the right input, guidance or support, it is possible to have many insights whatever our focus is in yoga at any time and these are likely to be different for each person. For example, we may learn about the way we treat our bodies and hence ourselves, or more simply that we love to be upside down. In this way, our yoga practice becomes more fluid and free, with no set goal, but an evolving journey of discovery into learning about our body in space and who we are.

We can then develop a spiritual practice of sorts with our yoga. As stated in the above extract, this can help us build or maintain a healthy relationship with ourselves, creating or working towards more self-love. Yet the act of ‘making peace’ with who we are or ultimately of ‘loving ourselves’, whilst simple in print, can often feel more elusive than achieving the handstand. It is no wonder then, that we get so focused on the physical and so in some cases, maybe the handstand is a good place to start.

By Tessa Ettinger