The Only Advice You'll Ever Need
I don’t know about you, but most of what I’m told by teachers doesn’t stick right away. Or ever. Maybe that’s because I’m naturally skeptical and prefer to experience things for myself. I also do not surrender to others easily, and assume that most of what people say and do, yoga teachers included, is more about their shit than mine. And if I’m being honest, I’m uninterested in fretting over little things. I believe less is more when it comes to advice about yoga.
But every so often, despite my reluctance as a student, certain nuggets of wisdom take hold and impact my practice, and life, for the better.
This one came during a session with Kino MacGregor. I don’t remember what the class or topic of discussion was, but I remember raising my hand in earnest. My question was what to do with feelings and thoughts, especially negative ones, that come up during practice. I gave the example of my experience in Marichyasana A that morning. I noticed myself feeling jealous and resentful towards the person next to me who had only been practicing a few months but could effortlessly touch her chin to her shin. And there I was, a five year Primary Series veteran, my chin was no where near my shin, and I was hating myself and my neighbor for it. I think my unconscious belief was that I was failing as a yoga student because I couldn’t force those thoughts away. I knew it didn’t matter that my chin couldn't touch, but I thought it mattered a lot that still I cared so much.
Her response was simple yet profound.
She told me to notice my feelings, then take my next breath. Then, to notice that the feelings didn’t go away, and take my next breath. Then, to notice that I felt shame about my inability to move on, then take my next breath. And to continue doing that until it was time to jump back and do the next pose. And then to do the same with whatever thoughts arose there.
Perhaps that sounds anticlimactic, but for me it was anything but. I realized that I had been attempting to control my inner dialogue, not understanding what a futile and toxic effort it was. Instead, Kino was telling me not to force anything, but to let those thoughts play out on their own, simply observing and breathing. I was to do that no matter the thought or pose, on or off my mat.
Disengage with the self-obsessed, batshit crazy, self-loathing nightmare of a person who lives in my head? Yes please! You don't have to tell this girl twice.
Seriously, that one piece of advice changed the way I practice and live. I had heard at least a billion times that I wasn’t supposed to get involved with my inner dialogue, but my stubborn self thought “but you don’t understand what kind of dialogue I’m dealing with over here.” I thought that advice was only for people who didn't need to be punished by their self talk. I deserved to be abused because I was a failure for allowing those dark thoughts to be there (among other things, but that’s for another post.)
Something about the concrete example of my experience in Mari A that day brought it home for me. All of a sudden I understood. Self-talk was useless chatter that had no bearing on my worth as a person. I didn’t need to keep holding my feet to the fire. It wasn’t motivating me to do better. It wasn’t holding me justifiably accountable for my shameful existence; it was holding me hostage in a place where real progress could never occur.
It is our acceptance of ourselves that allows real peace to grow. I can’t punish and shame my way to enlightenment. Like Kino explained, I must simply surrender to the journey and breathe.
I feel like that’s the only advice anyone needs. Ever.