Thoughts of a Yoga Practitioner and New Yoga Teacher.
As a yoga teacher, I get asked a good deal of questions, many for which I do not have an answer.
As a yoga practitioner, I am also perceived as having a perfectly balanced life and mistakenly thought to follow certain guidelines—some of which I am not even aware.
Not too long ago, I was asked by a student if there is particular yoga sequence she should do during the full moon to be able to absorb its energy!
A year ago, on Mother’s Day, the host of a luncheon served wine to all those seated, ready to enjoy their meal. He deliberately skipped me. I didn’t say anything to him but instead asked my husband to serve me some wine. When the host realized, he apologized and said he didn’t think I drank wine since I do yoga.
I once had a student in one of my Half Primary Ashtanga classes interrupt mid-way through class to say, ‘This isn't the yoga I know, I want to do Kundalini yoga.’ After the class, I told her I didn’t teach Kundalini yoga. At the time, I didn’t even know what Kundalini yoga was.
These are just a few examples of how yoga practitioners and teachers alike are wrongly perceived.
Yoga teachers and practitioners should be flexible, strong or of a particular size. They should know about all styles of yoga, meditate every day and be insightful. They should be calm, focused and patient. They should be spiritual and know about the chakras, the yoga sutras, the Upanishads. They should be Buddist or Hindu. They should follow a particular diet, not eat meat, and not drink alcohol. They are expected to live by biased guidelines, and if they don’t follow them, they are somehow a fake yogi.
I would agree that as a regular practitioner, yoga gives us the tools we need to develop many virtues and positive habits. It also has a mysterious way of teaching us what we need to do to be a better person. But by no means does yoga make us a better person all on its own.
We have to choose to keep our moral principals and values, practice them daily and remain fully aware of our behavior and interactions with others and our environment.
Sometimes it’s easier to be a lesser version of ourselves. We forget basic principles of ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), sauca (cleanliness) and many others.
We choose not to put kindness and love first. Instead, we choose to be negative, dealing with destructive thoughts and emotions, harmful self-talk, and a whole array of other issues.
It happens to everyone. That’s why a regular practice is important: it will help you stay focused. It’s not what you do on your yoga mat that makes you a yogi, but what you do off the mat. We are all on a path of self-discovery, and sometimes we take a wrong turn or meet an obstacle along the way. Regular yoga practice offers the development of many virtues and values, especially to the truth-seeking, dedicated, long-term practitioner.
“Ashtanga Yoga is the washing machine for the mind, Guruji used to say. It washes the mental patterns of self-doubt and self-criticism: things that stand in the way of us becoming our best selves.”
— Magnolia Zuniga
So while I may be expected to know the answer to many different questions, or be perceived as some kind of super-knowledgeable yoga person, I realize this perception of me is flawed. But I also realize that when students approach me, they trust that I will somehow solve their problem, or reveal some secret insight, or magically teach them a posture.
As flattering as that may be, it’s a big responsibility—one for which I am not sure I am ready. Yes, I do know the Primary Series of Ashtanga. I can teach you many postures and modifications, and how to remain safe while performing asanas. I can teach you postures to become more flexible and gain strength. I can tell you which books to read for greater knowledge of the yoga philosophy, practice, and tradition, and I can offer some advice on a few yoga-related topics. But I, too, am only a yoga student.
I guess it’s the same when I ask my teacher a question: I am also in search of answers to magically take away my suffering or rest my worrying mind. On occasion, I ask questions which he is unable to answer because they are beyond his scope. I recall him once saying that as a yoga teacher, you will also be expected to be a doctor, a physical therapist, a counselor, a dietitian/nutritionist and a long list of other professions you probably are not, and probably don’t want to be either.
So when affronted with questions or comments of these sorts, I always remember these two things:
Only teach what you know and always be prepared to say ‘I don’t know.’
Not knowing the answer to a question is sometimes liberating. It gives me the opportunity to learn something new. I don’t mind not knowing the answer. Sometimes I will do some research and give an answer later on. Or follow up later and see if they found the answer they were looking for.
What you see as a perfectly balanced life is what I make of the situations life has to offer me.
I may have a great day filled with purpose and opportunities, and other days are crappy and I want to crawl under a rock. So it's not all perfect. But no one ever said it should be. Every day I have a choice. And I know that the best choice is constant practice with faith and determination; my Ashtanga yoga practice has taught me with that.
Here is a quote for thought by Marcus Aurelius:
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see a perspective, not the truth.”