June 24, 2010

Not My Yoga!

Yoga is way too big to ever be called, “mine”.

I love yoga. I practice yoga. I read about it. Dream about it. And I teach yoga.

Yet, if someone were to ask me about what is my yoga, my inclination is to answer that it’s not “my yoga”. It is way too big for that.

Yoga is not “mine”. I cannot give myself or another person yoga. What I have learned from teachers is technique. I can apply this technique to myself, and I can teach it to others, but the yoga itself is not mine to have or mine to give. I can only participate in the experience.

Whenever I have asked Gabriel Halpern (a yoga teacher who has had a profound impact on my understanding of yoga and on how I see myself as a human being) about something amazing and insightful he said during class, he always says that it came from Mr. Iyengar. I recognize something truthful in this strategy of teaching beyond what might be immediately apparent. It could be true that every time I have commented on what Gabriel said in class that it came from something he learned from Mr. Iyengar, the man. However, what this kind of deferral has taught me is that the teachings of yoga come from a source that is beyond us. This brings a sense of diligence and service to the teaching of yoga. It is beneficial to individual people, but it is not about us as individuals. We are working to maintain an ideal of service and care for humans through yoga.

One time, years ago, while assisting Gabriel in a Gentle yoga class, a student I’d been assisting spoke extremely glowingly about an experience she had had in a pose. When Gabriel came over she shared with him the wonder and revelation of her experience and my part in it. I was smiling and feeling very pleased; she felt that I had done very well was what I was telling myself. (Yes, I had done very well…) Gabriel, who can be quite theatrical, then turned to me and made a funny face (like maybe he had crapped his pants—it was hilarious, but I was too stunned to laugh…), turned his eyes upward, waved his hands in the air, and stepped from one foot to the other. His stature seemed to be shrinking during this strange and playful dance of adoration. Then he got down onto his knees, paused and then kissed my feet. I was embarrassed and felt myself shrink inside a little. I got it. This wasn’t about me. It was about her experience of herself, which she happened to be projecting onto me in that moment. I had lapped it up like a kitty drinking milk, but that wasn’t the whole story.

You see, it’s easy to become confused when it comes to yoga. I was offering some points on technique that I had learned from Gabriel, that he had learned from Mr. Iyengar in India, that he had learned from… (and so on…) So when my head was expanding with delight, and Gabriel knelt down and kissed my foot it immediately dawned on me that this was not a situation to buy into. Sobered, I turned to the student and continued our work.

And the lesson has stuck with me to this day, approximately seven years later… I honor the experience of students, and at the same time I know for myself that the blessings of students are reflections of their gratefulness about their experience with yoga—it’s not about me. I only strive to serve the process of life and yoga in a helpful way.

* Simul-posted at Yogic Muse *

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