Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Needs Versus Wants in Yoga

So why do we feel the need to be so goal oriented in yoga classes and what is with the craziness attached to being able to grab our toes?  Perhaps it is our misunderstanding of needs versus wants that is to blame.  
Need versus want is the very same in your yoga class as it is with any relationship or situation off your mat. You may want to conquer that physical yoga pose in the same way that you want that person in your life to love you a certain way, but these wants are not the same as needs. In a yoga class you need to breathe. You need to build heat. You need to learn how to use your bandhas (energy locks). You certainly need to stay present. --You do not need to wear Lululemon clothing!  You do not need to look perfect in your poses!  You do not need to weigh 90lbs to practice!
Often, making the clarification between what is needed versus wanted can pose a serious challenge. In a relationship, being unable to differentiate between the two concepts can lead to confrontation over things that should be inconsequential. My mom would call this “choosing your battles.” The important thing is to understand what you need from the relationship while not getting caught up in the small stuff that could derail you from that main need.  In your practice it is the same.  When we start to compare our practice to others or become overly involved in our appearance or expectations, then we begin to get derailed from the experience of the practice.
This concept of want is really derived from what is called Asmita (ego) in yoga. Asmita is one of the 5 Kleshas (afflictions) to happiness. Many say that the other four Kleshas (Avidya-ignorance, Raja-attachment, Dvesha-repulsion, Abhinivesha-fear of loss or clinging to one's life) are all derived from Asmita. Asmita may cloud what you need as wants get in the way.  

In Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend pose) we can look at this idea a little more closely.  Folding over extended legs and reaching the heart towards the lower legs with the hands towards the feet we find ourselves in this pose.  You may want to grab your feet and pull yourself down because something inside insists that you can and will reach your feet.  That is the want, but the need would be to feel your way into the pose; embracing the 5 breaths of internal massaging to the abdominal organs, focusing on muscle releases during exhalations and finding contentment in the practice and the experience.
While it is ok to have both needs and wants as far as your practice or anything else in your life goes, it is important to acknowledge that the wants are not necessary to feel the deepest connections in your relationships or your practice. Committing to a daily practice may help with regards to staying true to present needs.  When the practice is daily we are less likely to place such high expectations for physical outcomes. Often this the time we let go of these ego-attached desires and begin to see progress in the physical practice.
Yoga in itself means to yoke or unite the mind and body. Each time you approach your mat or life circumstances many things may be different: material stature, relationships, your physicality and energy may all be different, but as the saying goes: “where ever you go, there you are.” Understanding how to differentiate between needs and wants and being able to deduct the ego from many of these experiences will help you to progress through your practice without getting hung up on the small stuff and it will do the same for your relationships in life as well...



  1. I love this post! I had been going to yoga and finally had done one "head stand" down (I don't know the formal pose). I stopped for over a half a year because my running took over - and on Sunday I learned I had lost it!

    I wanted to jet my legs up and force myself to do it - but I knew my body didn't need it. I needed to get to the spot I felt comfortable and breathe. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. That's terrific! Thanks for sharing, I love that you were able to connect with your true needs on this one!

  2. I need to stop battling my post...gained some insights...