Depending on who you ask, yoga originated somewhere around 5,000 years ago in India. It wasn’t until the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago that the idea of yoga was first brought to the West by Swami Vivekananda on any kind of grand scale.
As yoga evolved into the forms we see today, our culture also evolved into one that largely values competition and individualism over cooperation to reach greater goals. In school we are encouraged to do better than our peers. At work we strive to climb to the top of the ladder, leaving others behind.
While this mentality can work well in some aspects of our lives, many people try to take it into their yoga practice as well. As we see pictures of yogis twisted into beautiful poses, we can get obsessed with creating the same shape rather than the intention behind the shape.
Our bodies do not always take on the same shape even in the same posture as someone else. We’re all built so differently: muscles grow in different lengths, bones are different densities, joints have different mobility and ligaments have varying pliability. Some of these things may change over time with practice, but others will pretty much stay the same.
What can always change are the breath and attitude. Stop. And. Breathe.
When we stop competing with ourselves, we are able to cooperate with our bodies, breath and minds. When the breath cooperates with the body, the heart is able to slow. When the body cooperates with the mind, the body can rest and digest. When the mind cooperates with the breath, the monkey brain is able to settle down.
With some irony, cooperation beats competition in yoga.