Yoga is not a self-centered practice. The goal of yoga is not to make you feel better…
This blog is first in a series: Mindfulness can heal our world- Part One.
If you are a regular practitioner in my classes, you probably heard me saying; “We are all related. This is not your yoga. This is not YOUR time.” I know some of you are a bit shaken by this statement and may even take it personally in a hurtful way. That is not my intention. My intention is to teach yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.
But momentary ease of challenges and temporary reduction of stress is all that a student will learn if the teacher is not teaching correct mindfulness practice. To some degree yoga and meditation is self-centered because you must pay attention to your body, your breath, and your thoughts. But this is the beginning. In Buddhist and Hindu tradition, where mindfulness practice and yoga was cultivated for thousands of years before we Westerners embraced this art, compassion and wisdom were cultivated through yoga and meditation. The goal was never, to feel better. The goal was to find ways of interrelatedness in the universe. Through mindful meditation the yogi figured out a way to be one with the universe, to experience God for some traditions of Hinduism, for others it was to blur the distinction between self and the world, to find the intricately intertwined nature of all beings and time. Yes, the process of discovering universality starts with ‘inward gazing’, but the goal is not to get stuck on the inner-centeredness. If the yogi gets stuck on inward gazing, he or she will do nothing more than to inflate the ego, the ego’s need to be important, the ego’s need to be right. The ego is the very thing that yoga and meditation wish to reduce and tame. It is precisely this ego, the too much inward gazing that creates all pain and suffering in the universe.
By mindfully listening to our thoughts we can recognize our conceptions of reality. By acknowledging that it is our understanding of reality, the next logical step is to realize that our reality is different from other’s, and there are many equally valid perspectives. This leads to curiosity, empathy, and open-mindedness. Open-mindedness and compassion are the key concepts for a peaceful society. When we go beyond our selfish needs, when we let go of the self, when we see each other, we are practicing yoga and meditation.
Let me demonstrate this point with some simple examples:
In a breath, one can recognize the interrelatedness of the universe. Plants supply oxygen, sentient beings breathe oxygen and in turn, give carbon dioxide back to the plant life. Our own life is not just our own. This relationship is easily seen between plant life and animal kingdom, but you may put any of your thoughts to this test. Pick a thought, any thought. Is it yours or did you hear it from someone? How is that thought going to influence your actions and emotions? How are your actions and emotions affecting other sentient beings? You see, the line between the self and the world blur the second you examine the process.
A meditation practice that produces only self-satisfaction, self-centeredness is not a sound mindfulness practice. Yes, we do have to take care of the self, but you would be surprised how well the person is taken care of when the whole is healthy. So don’t be surprised when I let students into class 10 minutes late. I know other yoga studios have a strict punctuality rule to help practitioners stay focused and peaceful. I say that teaches you no mindfulness, it only allows you to feel important about your time. Practice empathy for the person who possibly had a rough day. Practice keeping the inner peace when somebody comes into the room too loud. And if you are the one who is late, be aware how your lateness sends a wave of energy through the room, notice if you are a habitually late. Once there is recognition of behavior, you can do something about it.
Yes, I am happy to make people stronger, I am glad to give you a momentary peace of mind. But my aspiration as a teacher is to help you live a more joyful, connected life not just on your mat, but also out there in the real word. So occasionally I shake you up emotionally in the yoga studio. I will tell you this is not your time; I will say ‘yoga time’ is not just to get your ‘sweat on.’ Rather, this is our time, this is our universe, and we are here for one and other. Enjoy your body, enjoy your breath and discover how your being provides a gift for all of us in the universe! Once you recognize your connectedness to the world, you will feel better. But feeling better is a side-effect, not the goal.
Keep an eye out for part 2 and 3 of this blog. I will publish them in the coming weeks.
To learn more about meditation and mindfulness practices by taking 200 Teacher Training. Spira training will make you an excellent teacher, but our goal is to teach the art of yoga and mindfulness. It is not necessary to choose a teaching path in the yoga studio. We are all teachers in life, so learn to recognize your life in this universe through yoga “teacher training.”
Other avenues to learn mindfulness: