If you let your fears and your worries and yes, and your pain wash over you – allow them to fully reveal themselves, they become less scary. I am by no means suggesting that you dwell there. Understand that it is a process and also has an end. An outcome. Understand that in doing that you are learning – about yourself mostly. About what is important to you. About what you want to be important to you. And most importantly – understanding your vulnerability. And that, like everyone else on this planet – you are vulnerable. That is what makes us human and beautiful.
Feeling the heat – as much as it could freak you out – will not necessarily make you tough. Or bitter. Or cynical. Not if your aim is to learn and to understand. What it will do is make you a beautiful, loving, understanding human being. Open to give and to receive.
I believe that the strongest people are those who acknowledge and celebrate their vulnerability. Those who are not afraid to be the first to say: “I love you”. Or are afraid but do it anyway. Those who are not afraid to show someone a kind face or gesture. And expect absolutely nothing in return. I know it sounds so very yogi or “airy fairy” – but show a hurtful person compassion and understanding. That does NOT mean allow them to hurt you. It does NOT mean become a doormat. It simply means – understand why they do that. Consider this: would a person, who themselves is happy and content, hurt others? That bully in the office, that man who tore your heart out, that dad who doesn’t pay attention – just try to remember why they do that. Then wait and see – you might just find that they notice that you understand. They might just realise what they are doing. And they might just learn something too. And so you might have helped someone find peace too or at least helped them begin to understand. Even if they aren’t in your life. If someone hurts you, walk away. A very powerful thing to do. And walking away can take many forms. Ignoring a vitriolic remark or refusing to be part of poisonous talk. You don’t have to allow others to hurt you in order to be understanding.
Loyalty and honesty is a choice that only strong spirits have the courage to make.
To every single person in my life and those in my future and those in my past and even those I will never know, I send you love and warmth.
Your mat is one and a half metres by half a metre. Probably around 4mm thick on average. It helps protect and cushion your body, it gives you your space to practice and helps with aligning and orienting your body. Sometimes it is printed beautifully, and has the grip you need for a bit of blood, sweat and tears.
And this mat is a microcosm of your life. On this mat, you learn about yourself. Your body – its limitations and its capabilities. You also learn about your mind and your heart. You are safe here to explore how you react, how you feel and how, being with that, feels to you. We all have an asana that we love. Most of the time it is an asana that we’re good at! My favourite is arm balances and also flexibility poses. Why? Because I’m good at those. It makes me feel, well, strong and flexible. Done. Nope, not actually. We also have asanas that we don’t like. For so many reasons. My worst? Probably Warrior 3. Why? I’m challenged. It takes a whole lot of strength, physically, but also staying power. I’m in it for just maybe three breaths and I’m over it. So here is where the observing and learning starts. What would happen if I held it for just another breath? Maybe two or three? My mind is saying: Ok. Enough! You’ve made your point. My body is begging me to stop. But what happens if I take away the easy (in my case, arms behind in Dekasana) and reach them over my head? Pull my shoulders back, reach my hands out in front of me, biceps next to my ears, squeezing the arm muscles? How do I react? And when I come out, how do I feel?
Out there, on the bigger mat – life? I’m in a situation where my mind is saying: fight or flight! Did I learn anything in my beloved (not) Warrior 3? Say I’m dealing with a difficult person. Fight or flight? How about just another breath or two? How about, just like on the mat when we are encouraged to be gentle, compassionate I do that here too? Can I practice compassion? Staying for just another breath so as to open more options in how I want to react/respond? Is there then opportunity for a different outcome? Brene Brown puts it beautifully:
“Don’t grab hurtful comments and pull them close to you by rereading them and ruminating on them. Don’t play with them by rehearsing your badass comeback. And whatever you do, don’t pull hatefulness close to your heart.
Let what’s unproductive and hurtful drop at the feet of your unarmoured self. And no matter how much your self doubt wants to scoop up the ciriticism and snuggle with the negativity so it can confirm its worst fears, or how eager the shame gremlins are to use the hurt to fortify your armour, take a deep breath and find the strength to leave what is mean spirited on the ground. You don’t even need to stomp it or kick it away. Cruelty is cheap, easy and chickenshit. It doesn’t deserve your energy or engagement. Just step over the comments and keep daring, always remembering that armour is too heavy a price to pay to engage with cheap-seat feedback.”
And one of my all time favourites, Pema Chodron:
“Currently, the majority of the world’s population is far from being able to acknowledge when they’re about to explode or event o think it is important to slow the process down. In most cases, that churned-up energy translates quickly into aggressive reactions and speech. Yet, for each and every one of us, intelligence, warmth and openness are always accessible. If we can be conscious enough to realise what’s happening, we can pause and uncover these basic human qualities. The wish for revenge, the prejudiced mind – all of that is temporary and removable. It’s not the permanent state. as Chogyam Trungpa put it, ‘Sanity is permanent, neurosis is temporary.’
To honestly face the pain in our lives and the problems in the world, let’s start by looking compassionately and honestly at our own minds. We can become intimate with the mind of hatred, the mind that polarizes, the mind that makes somebody “other” and bad and wrong. We come to know, unflinchingly, and with great kindness, the angry, unforgiving, hostile wolf. Over time, that part of ourselves becomes very familiar, but we no longer feed it. Instead, we can make the choice, and the attitudes and actions that follow from it, are like a medicine that has the potential to cure all suffering.”
The Shambala teaching is: “Placing our fearful mind in the cradle of loving-kindness.”
A lovely young yogi, Jade Bedel, asked me some time ago if I would be interested in her interviewing me for her podcast. Jade, although so young, is a skilled interviewer. She asked insightful questions and clearly is a total yogi! 🙂
Check out the interview, and Jade’s blog:
(If this link doesn’t work, just copy and paste it into your browser.)
All the best, Jade! I think you will do really well.
I am surprised every time when I adjust a student’s asana and they apologise. Thankfully that doesn’t happen often! What it does tell me is that that student is either judging her/himself or is afraid of being judged by the other participants or the teacher.
A while ago I attended a class I haven’t been to before and when the opportunity arose, took flying crow. It is a fairly advanced asana (there are other far more advanced than that!), which I enjoy doing and like to practice as my left side is not nearly as balanced as the right! While doing this, I heard a comment from the teacher: “Remember folks, this is not a competition.” She must have seen a reaction in some of the participants and was letting them know that.
Years ago, early on in my teaching days there was a fellow teacher who reasonably regularly attended one of my classes. I noticed her often rolling her eyes or frowning and shaking her head. Naturally, as a beginner teacher, that nearly threw me completely! Another teacher, also early after our training course, liked to slap the floor to get me to come over and then she would point out something she thought I should adjust in a student, or if she thought I should be doing something differently.
Yeah – I know. Really bad behaviour, right? The last two are (very real, unfortunately) extreme examples of judging that does happen. I confided in a more experienced teacher and as we talked, and her assuring me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my teaching, I realised that the judgement has so much more to do with the judger than it has to do with the judged.
So, if you find yourself feeling critical of how you practice, or if you are afraid of being judged by others, here are some tips:
1 Practising yoga is not a competition.
Yep – that first teacher was absolutely right. And yes, there are competitive personalities wherever you go. Just try to remember that you aren’t there to compete. You are there for your own practice, whatever “level” it may be at. (This is one of the reasons I never ask a new participant what “level” they are at. It only makes opportunity for labels. And if you are a teacher worth her/his salt you will get a very good idea, well before the first round of sun salutations ends, how experienced that person is. And a teacher would use that knowledge only to help with cueing and adjusting poses, offering modifications and possibly the pace.)
2 A good teacher would never judge you.
Not in the negative way that would label you. Don’t be afraid. Your practice space is safe. So is your learning. And if you ever have the misfortune to land up in a class where that happens, use your power: don’t go back to that class. Or perhaps have a chat with the teacher. There is also always a chance that perhaps you might have felt judged but in reality weren’t. Nevertheless, here is something else that would be good to remember: keep trying different classes and different teachers until you hit on someone whom you feel comfortable with and feel you can learn something from.
3 Get out of your head and into the practice.
Seriously. When we practice yoga, that is what we are doing. Not analysing, not wondering how we are doing, not thinking about what to make for dinner or what the student next to you thinks of your practice. We practice yoga.
4 Remember older poses you couldn’t do before.
Just remember the first time you mastered crow pose. When you first saw it demonstrated, chances are you thought something like: “That looks so hard. I wonder if I could do it.” Then you did progress! That’s how I advise students to think about poses that look really difficult. Chances are that some of them are, but with persistence and practice, you will learn how to do them. That is what we do when we attend a yoga class, after all. We go there to learn and to practice.
5 Judgement says more about the judger than it says about the judged.
We all see life through unique eyes, with our unique experiences and interpretations behind that. Perhaps the person you feel judged by (if they really are and you’re not just afraid they might) does that because they feel uncertain. The thing is, we can’t possibly know everything. Allow for that. Just remain true to yourself. And to your practice.
6 Yoga practice is your time and your effort.
Remember why you went in the first place. You wanted something out of practising yoga. Own your time and your effort. Don’t allow real or perceived judgements spoil that for you.
By the way, these tips work in other situations in life too! Try it, you might just notice the usefulness of that.
Wishing you lots of happy hours of practice.
Manipulation. I don’t know if I need to get over myself but one of my core values is to NOT try to manipulate someone. Personally, I feel insulted (I have a good BS detector – I’m a Capricorn) when I spot someone trying to manipulate me. This is something I have always had very strong feelings about.
But where does personal responsibility start? We all know that companies, big and small, manipulate our thinking. An advertising campaign is exactly that. You are targeted on your preferences to buy something you may not ordinarily have bought. Supermarkets do – most of us are aware how aisles are specifically placed and flowed to make us buy more than we intend to.
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” ― Edward Bernays, Propaganda
What about on a personal level? Babies do – we are born, for example, with eyeballs that never change size. So when we’re born, our eyes are big and appealing, and we make just the right kind of noises and our parents come to our aid. We need that to survive.
In a relationship – there is sometimes good reason to manipulate each other. For example, if a partner is given to spending too much time online, we kinda “guide” them away from that with distractions, etc. Rather that than a full on discussion or worse, confrontation. Most of us are all about keeping the peace so you do what you need to, right?
What about white lies – aren’t they also manipulation? Would you tell someone that they look terrible, or avoid that by saying something else or coming out with a straight faced white lie?
I have been manipulated and NOT in a good way – a very long marriage where I even got to a point where I completely questioned my own validity and my sanity. Started suffering from depression. Found out years later that has a name: Gaslighting. There was another relationship where I was manipulated on a daily basis because he was in another, live-in relationship. THAT is the kind of manipulation I am talking about. The kind of manipulation that causes rifts in families. The kind of manipulation that leaves you feeling – if not entirely aware of what it going on – a little uneasy. Or a lot.
My feeling is that at some point we have to take responsibility for manipulating others. It can be a grey area – difficult to pin down. I’m kinda thinking that if we start getting people to do stuff for us just for the sake of getting them to, or if we risk hurting someone in the process, or if we catch ourselves in the habit of relating to people in a manipulating way overall – it is time to CHECK IN! If you do what you do at someone else’s expense and to gain from it selfishly, that’s manipulation.
The closest I can find: “Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.” ― Madeline L’Engle
And finally: “I’ve been doing this a long time- manipulating people to get my way. That’s why you think you love me. Because I’ve broken you down and built you back up to believe it. It wasn’t an accident. Once you leave this behind….. you’ll see that. -Caleb” ― CJ Roberts, Seduced in the Dark
A few weeks ago I was in a co-teacher’s class for practice. I like partaking in classes as I find the energy contagious and as a teacher myself it is nice to be guided. I also find it helps expand my own teaching and practice.
Before class started I noticed a woman behind me on her phone. She was texting or scrolling or something (that mindless thing you see people do on their phones). I tried to ignore it but ended up asking her very politely if she would just please take her phone outside. She just laughed and ignored my request. I felt as a participant I could ask, provided I was polite, and also because I know the teacher and know that she doesn’t allow phones in her class. Well, as the devil would have it the phone actually rang during the last part of class during the quiet asanas.
I also don’t allow electronic devices into my class. Ok – people have smart watches too now, but I try to be reasonable. (Yes, I am 62 but am as much immersed in this electronic world as anyone else.) Comically I have actually had people in their 40’s and 50’s argue with me when I ask them to leave their phones outside! Of course, there are those who try to sneak their phones in. So what is the big deal with having a phone with you in class?
- Like it or not, even if your phone is on standby or off, it is a distraction. Most people are so used to checking it every few minutes why wouldn’t you have that urge in practice too? And believe me – I have seen people do that over and over in classes where they had phones with them. Even if you resist that urge, you think about it.
- It IS a distraction for other participants. For some it is for the same reasons it is a distraction for you. But for many people yoga is not just a physical workout. For a whole lot of people it is a space where they can safely practice. This includes being in a space that is free from distractions for them. There are also many people for whom yoga practice is a spiritual engagement. It is reasonable for any yoga participant to expect that they can practice in a quiet and good environment.
- Even if you have your phone on silent, it could very well receive a call or text during practice. How many people in this society have the will power to ignore that? Besides, why bring it in to class in the first place then?
- If you look at the eight limbs of astanga yoga, there are so many considerations there: just to name a few, in the first limb of Yama, there is Ahimsa – non violence. Isn’t stomping all over someone’s fair expectation to have a quiet and distraction free practice a violent disregard? What about Ishvara Pranidhana – surrendering to a power higher than oneself? Oh wait – is that higher power your phone?
- During each asana, we are reminded to remain mindful. Yoga Sutra 1.33 discusses how consciousness arises by radiating friendliness, compassion, delight and equanimity toward all things. 1.34 says: Or by pausing after breath flows in or out. 1.35 says: Or by steadily observing as new sensations materialise. How does one do all these things when your phone is right there next to you? Again the question: why bring it in in the first place?
- What about attachment? Again returning to the Sutras, 1.37 says: Or by focusing on things that do not inspire attachment. People attached to their phones?? Surely not!
Finally, and by no means least, consider the meaning of vinyasa: we place steps in a particular pattern, to create a sacred space. That “sacred” could mean anything to you – a quiet space, a space where you can mindfully practice. Even if practicing yoga is for you simply a series of exercises the majority of people in the class appreciate the safe space they can practice whatever yoga means to them. As the teacher and the person in charge of that room it is my responsibility to ensure that the space is safe for everyone. I WILL ask you not to bring your phone into my class. Count on it.
I have some opinions on the observed and mindless addiction to their phones that so many people demonstrate but won’t go into all that now.
I guess my point is – if you have no intention to use or glance at your phone during yoga practice (as so many people emphatically assure me….), why on earth would you want it with you in your practice? And also – just consider others too. Everyone does not have exactly the same point of view you may have on the constant use of phones.
Be mindful – Namaste