“I have started competing in yoga,” it said. “Are you still competing? We should take a class together.”
Competing in yoga? I wondered if I was good enough to compete, and imagined the trophy I could take home: perhaps a golden statue of a woman in a perfectly aligned headstand.
A few days later, Angela, Stephanie and Christina were invited to perform yoga at a local health and body expo. Perform yoga? I started imagining the spangled yoga tutu I would buy, and the theme music I would use for my sun salutations.
These interactions made me think about the ways that we verb yoga, about how the words we choose carry expectations with them. Competitors train for that one telling moment when they will win or lose. Performers train so that they can engage onlookers. Practitioners train so that they can get up they next day and practice again.
Verbs set intentions. If you compete, you need a win. If you perform, you need applause. If you practice, all you need is a mat.
According to reports, the yoga performance went beautifully, but my friend and I never got to compete in yoga together. A follow-up email explained that he had taken a yoga class and he had not competed well. All of his practicing had been for nothing: the competition had ended, and he had not racked up enough points for a yoga victory. So he decided that yoga was not for him.
What my friend lost, of course, was not a match or set, but the opportunity to learn how to use asana to understand his body from the inside out.
Yoga is not about winning. Yoga is not about scoring a Perfect 10. It is about practicing. Practicing not to make perfect, but to make more practice.