Curiouser and Curiouser
One thing I notice all the time when I teach yoga is how much striving seems to be going on. How much effort we put into trying to reach further than before, to go deeper than we have before, to be better than we have before. I watch all this striving and pushing from a vantage point: at the front of the classroom.
Being teacher has its perks. When you're the student and you're desperately trying to fold your abdomen towards your thighs in the seated forward bend known as paschimottanasana, your mind usually works in these 2 ways. First, the frustration that you just can't seem to fold forward. Second, your instant reaction to look around the room, plant your eyes on someone who can not only touch their toes but by some miraculous intervention that you can't even begin to fathom is actually clasping their wrists beyond the soles of their feet. In those instant moments your emotions shift from frustration, irritation, anger, self-hate, and self pity to jealously, envy, self-loathing and many many more, and all within second.
As the teacher, I see all this. I have been that student. I have found a way to use yoga as yet another tool to tell myself that I'm simply not good enough. I have an innate ability to compare myself to the naturally flexible, incredibly strong person who obviously follows a strict yoga discipline. And I use this ability to beat myself over the head with a giant stick of guilt (you're not as good as them because you don't practice to the tradition), of criticism (you're not good enough/brave enough/disciplined enough), and of a way to completely take away any respect or compassion I have for my own body, my own practice and my own spirit. So I get it. But as the teacher, I also get the opportunity to see things differently. I see different types come and go. I see the young strong man who has no problem with chatturanga yet cannot move into a forward fold to save his life. I see plenty of hyper-mobile women, who have not yet realised that to be overly flexible is actually not a good thing in yoga, and risk doing themselves serious damage by over stretching (FYI it's usually these women that are receiving the envious glances from the other students, but let me tell you that once you've started stretching your ligaments rather than your muscles, you're not in a good place).
I try to share my unique vantage point with the students in my class. I remind them that all bodies are different, that their intention must go inward to how the movement feels rather than how it looks on the person beside them, and that to really move on in their yoga practice they must begin by becoming curious.
Curious not only about the range of movement, be it limited or not, in their body, but curious about the emotions and beliefs that accompany it. If we experience fear on the mat, it's highly likely we experience fear in other parts of life. If we experience jealousy on the mat, do we spend our life judging others and comparing ourselves? What do we achieve by letting these emotions - whatever they might be - rule our lives? Being on the mat reveals a great deal. We might notice that fear of trying a new posture might hurt us, might make us look stupid, might challenge our beliefs of what we're able to do. We might notice that this fear prevents us from even attempting something new, and we might suddenly realise we've been holding back on other areas of our lives - our work, our relationships, our health.
To begin this journey we must learn to welcome in the emotions, invite them in for tea and conversation, and find out what they want. If you're living a life of fear, there could well be good reasons for this, or then again maybe not. It might not matter. There isn't a right way or a wrong way there is just your way and your job is to start to get to grips with what your way is because one thing it nor sure, as soon as you start shifting that stagnant energy around in your yoga practice, those emotions and beliefs are going to want to be heard. And once they've been heard, they might decide to move on and you will be forced to change, ready or not.
You don't have to be a yoga teacher to realise any of this. You just need to start practicing it. And whether that's noticing your attitude on the mat, your patterns of behaviour in your relationships, or simply by journalling, make curiousity your intention, rather than flexibility. It could be the thing that really changes your life