Why I’m Not a Fan of this Concept: Full Expression
I’ll admit to not being a fan of some tried-and-true yoga phrases. And you know what’s at the top of my list? “Full expression.”
Have you heard that one? It usually sounds something like: “If you’d like, you can come into the full expression of the pose.” Or, “And if you do this, you’ll be in the full expression of the pose.”
In its most distilled version, “full expression” is fairly innocuous. It’s meant to illustrate what the pose should/could look like. In this way, it functions as both a teaching moment and a metric. “Once my _______ opens/strengthens more, I’ll be able to do ______.”
However, we humans are rarely able to learn of a goal without (almost immediately) wanting to strive for it. So we see pictures of yoga cover models in glamorous poses, or we see our own local teachers who seem far more bendy, strong and capable than we are, and we have an internal meltdown.
Meltdowns vary, as do people, but they usually involve some unfortunately negative self-talk. “I’ll never be able to do that.” Or “I better start doing yoga 2x/day, 90 min/time, so I can finally get into that pose.” Or “Is yoga even for me? I mean, I will never be able to do that!”
So why does it matter if students everywhere are getting their yoga bloomers into a knot about whether or not they can do the “full expression” of the pose?
I actually think there are lots of reasons, but they pretty much all boil down to one: the idea of full expression pulls us from the internal to the external. And in my estimation, that’s not what yoga is all about. Yoga takes us on a journey from the external to the internal.
Because here’s the truth: we’re not all going to be able to do the “full expression” of every pose. And plenty of us won’t be able to do it for any pose. Due to genetics, injury, bone shape/size, illness, body shape/size, emotional triggers, and so on and so forth, it just ain’t gonna happen, cap’n.
All is Not Lost
Not to worry, though. That doesn’t mean those of us (myself completely included!) who won’t see “full expression” in this lifetime should throw in the towel.
It means we need a new paradigm—that of “individual expression.” In truth, this is all any of us can have anyway—even those of us who can seemingly achieve “full expression.” Because even in “fullness,” there is difference. None of us has the exact same body (even twins!), so to think that we could pull off a pose in the same way just doesn’t even make sense.
So we might as well all let ourselves off the hook for that one.
What we can each achieve, though, is our own individual expression of a pose. The beautiful thing about individual expression is that it changes with us; it’s evolutionary. So our individual expression today may have been different last week or last year, as it may be next week or next year. Sometimes this will be “better;” sometimes it will be “worse.”
But when we keep our minds focused on our expression for today, we’re able to stay with the union of mind/body that yoga evokes—maintaining curiosity about our body and, as Dr. Seuss so eloquently puts it, “oh, the places it will go.”
More on “full expression” here!
Anna, you’re so right. That’s the first thing I learned in my first yoga class (many years ago), and the thing I relearn and re-teach all the time. Love your ideas and your blog. Maya
I agree about the phrase “the full expression” but I have heard teachers say “your full expression” and that feels good to me.
Hi Stacey, That’s a nice, more nuanced way to say it. Thanks!
Anna, I love this post. I found it very moving. Thank you so much.