Friday, April 25, 2008

Hello, Aparigraha, Nice to Meet You

I tend to be someone who is hard on herself when it comes to succeeding at things I try. I am not someone who takes failure well - in fact, I may take something that is merely an average performance as being a full-on failure. However,I think I am getting better at not beating myself up. And it's not that the physical practice of yoga has created this change as much as the physical practice of yoga has made me seek out the non-physical (i.e. spiritual) practice of yoga. That of observing the Yamas and Niyamas. Which sort of begs the question of why do we need the physical practice after discovering that "yoga" can be practiced without "asana"?

For we Americans, we are not immediately drawn to spiritual things. At least, that's what I think. Sure, we have lots of Christianity and every other religion, and it is something typically taught from childhood. It is less common that people convert, or seek out a brand-new spiritual path than what was taught to them from birth. Which is where asana comes in. The run-up of the popularity of yoga in the US can be virtually entirely tied to people's desire to achieve the physical benefits of the practice. They see all these fit celebrities who practice yoga and want that same thing, for example: Madonna, a regular Ashtanga practitioner, approaching 50, looking fabulous.

Is it wrong that people's initial intention to begin practicing yoga is completely for physical gain? I don't think so. I don't know that I had any other intention myself, as I didn't know much about yoga when I started. It's a starting point that will, hopefully, result in the discovery that yoga is so much more. That is, if the practitioner is lucky enough to have instructors that present more than just asana in their classes. Teachers are key to expanding the possibilities of yoga out to their students.

Why this diarrhea-of-the-mouth, analytical yoga monologue? My week has turned out to be a lesson in non-attachment, Aparigraha.

It began with the workshop where I had a light-bulb-ish moment courtesy of David Swenson. I realized I had become subconsciously competitive with myself, that perhaps I had attached some value to my practice, influenced by if I could jump though or jump back or do Mari D on my own. The reality is that it doesn't matter (not that I hadn't read and remembered this from my studies of the Sutras. The fact is that it hadn't internalized and probably still has only partially sunk in). My practice is not less valuable based on the depth of a pose. Is it the act of practicing that makes me feel good. Granted, it's fun to achieve some pose, but after being dragged through second series resulting in surrendering my ego completely, I realized I don't care all that much when I get to second series. I am less concerned with how great my transitions are. I will keep working on them, but, so what if it never happens? And so what if certain poses will never come or never be perfect? So What! To use a link from Ms. Tyra Banks' afternoon talk show.

The second event was presented to me yesterday. I have been feeling this sense of impending doom surrounding two classes I teach at a studio. A helplessness that I couldn't seem to get traction with students and it couldn't conceivably continue. It's clear I have been attached to this idea that if I could have the masses come, it would somehow validate me as a teacher. But the reality is that it doesn't. How many people walk through the door is not only a function of the teacher. I can't control the entire environment and to attach my personal worth to how many students walk into my yoga space is unfair to me and not in-line with anything I've learned about yoga. I was given the option to keep one class, but I decided after much thought that I didn't want either. Perhaps one might say I am shielding myself from "failure" of that one class, or I am "quitting", but I don't want my teaching and mood to be influenced by how many people are sitting in front of me. I, honestly, am worn out from the experience of having the class format changed every 4 weeks, only to to have it finally be a style and level I am really comfortable and enjoy teaching, and then have it yanked away before I can start digging my heels in. Non-attachment to the outcome - it actually made me choose my healthiest option for me which was to remove myself from the environment. If the class had managed to succeed during the time I was teaching it, does that make me a better person? A better teacher? Not necessarily. And to put myself through another n months of possibly the same feelings would not make me a better teacher. In fact, it could hurt my teaching and the experience of the rest of the students.

The practice of yoga has allowed me to find peace in my decisions, much easier than it has in the past. It not to say that these situations don't sometimes bum me out, because I am not immune to having feelings (nor do I want to be). But making a decision with some clarity and then being fairly at peace with it is more than I could expect if I wasn't practicing yoga "off the mat".

Namaste.

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