In addition to the physical aspect of practicing yoga in a class, there are two things that really stand out to me about them.
The first is the spiritual aspect of practicing yoga, which is definitely emphasized by our teachers. I find it a wonderful way to empty my mind of worries and to find some peace while I reconnect with my body. The language the teachers use, though, reminds me that for many people, this is as close as they come to having a spiritual life. In addition to emphasizing self-care and physical well-being, there's a lot of talk throughout the class about connecting ourselves with the power of the universe, about opening our hearts to the universe, about finding peace and comfort. Sometimes we are led through guided meditations which emphasize these things.
As these things are being said, I sometimes note the somewhat religious tone. Ah, yes, I think. People want to find meaning in life and to connect themselves with something bigger than they are. That's pretty much what I think many of us seek (and, one hopes, find) through actively belonging to a church community. We come to church to find some peace in a chaotic world, to find some comfort when things are going badly, to connect with the powerful love that is so much bigger than we are, love that sustains us through good and bad times. Many of us meditate or practice contemplative prayer (with some physical rituals/actions like intentional breathing or use certain postures) for these same reasons.
The second thing that stands out is the emphasis on the word "practice." In particular, today's teacher reminded us that the word "practice" means that we are not on stage. We are not expected to do every pose or movement perfectly every time. We are not performing. We are practicing. We are imperfect, seeking to do what we can this day, knowing that another day we may stretch further, hold a pose longer, but even if we never do any of those things, all will still be well. We will always be practicing.
I like that. I like the idea of letting go of a sense of preparing for some kind of performance and simply doing what we can do this day. That "practicing" is really "living" but without the expectation of perfection.
Does that mean we never "improve" or that without some kind of pressure or stress we will never live up to our potential? I don't think so. I think there's plenty of that out there in the world, anyway.
Rather, I think that regular practice does encourage us to live up to our potential, but does so in a way that also encourages us to be compassionate and less anxious. We still have mirrors in the room so that we can check to see if our form is correct - not for perfection's sake but so that we are getting the stretch or strengthening we are aiming for without injuring ourselves.
I am imperfect, and I am always practicing, and that's really fine with me.