Recently I had yet another conversation with my husband (a scientist) about issues between two yoga teachers. We discussed how it came down to ego, both bruised and excess, and again he said to me, “Why is it that there is so much drama around yoga? It’s just yoga.”
I have thought about this question non-stop since he first asked me it five years ago in response to a different story I had shared. We revisited it when people wrote derogatory responses to articles in major news sources about popular yoga teachers. Again we discussed it when someone sent me a nasty message about what I share on my Facebook page.
I do not have enough yogi toes or fingers to count the number of conversations I have had with students, fellow teachers or yoga bloggers who have shared unpleasant and/or ego driven interactions with other yoga practitioners/teachers/writers. The desire to make someone feel lesser than you are, less yogic than you feel you may be or to “correct” the errors of someone else’s way is pervasive. In truth these actions do a great disservice to not only the person sharing them, but to our yoga community as a whole.
“But they are a yogi! That was so unyogic!”
What causes the most consternation among people when these situations arise is that the deliverer of vitriol, ego or angst is a yoga teacher or yoga practitioner. Perhaps we as a sangha/community have forgotten that yoga teachers and students are at their core human. We still feel jealousy, anger, disgust, and frustration with others. We ALL do. The fact that we come to the mat does not change this truth.
However, our practice is a way for us to explore these qualities in ourselves and to develop the tools to walk a kinder, more accepting path.
With so much attention focused on beautiful execution of asanas, filling classes and getting the most people as your followers on social media, we have lost our way on the journey of yoga. What makes you a “yogi” is not that you can put your foot behind your head, that you studied with a senior teacher, that you are a senior teacher, that you’ve been practicing for X number of years, that you have taught for X number of years, that you can fill retreats or that you have a bigger student following than the owner of the studio where you teach. These are only indications of your flexibility, strength, scholarship, age, life choices, and ability to connect with others.
They reflect nothing about your practice off the mat.
Perhaps what we have forgotten is that Asana, the physical practice of poses, is but one of the eight limbs on the path of yoga. Teaching asana, executing asana, and training in asana are not enough. Period. We need to return to studying the Yamas and the Niyamas. If we were living from a place of Aparigraha and Svadhyaya we would spend less time looking off our proverbial mats to long for what others have and with judgement, and more time exploring our own journey. We collectively need to practice Pratiyahara and explore some inner inquiry rather than constantly finding fault in the actions of others.
My students know that one of my favorite exercises is to have them sit in Baddha Konasana and look around the room at each other. They see that each person looks different because their bone structure is unique. They witness that their expression of their asana is individual because it brings in their own story, practice and history. They then close their eyes and breathe and explore with acceptance. They learn to adjust and move and be in this asana from the inside out and in a way that works for them. They explore their Satya. These yogis learn to stop comparing and looking to others for value and instead to focus on the practice in their own bodies. They learn to take this experience off the mat and into their lives, approaching everyone as unique and not in comparison to who they are.
They learn a tool to live their yoga, not just how to do a yoga pose.
As a community we need to step back onto our mats and practice what we preach. We need to BE our yoga not just on Instagram or on our blogs, but in our daily lives. Our words and actions should reflect our studies in the Yamas and Niyamas. Our Santosha should come at the expense of no one nor require judgement, negativity or comparison.
We are yogis AND human so these are life-long practices. We need to be reminded that even if we have flaws and stumbles, we can approach life with the tools of our yoga practice to walk the path we have chosen with grace rather than negativity.
Then we can step off our mats and truly live our yoga. After all, that is why we come to our mats in the first place.