A recent telephone meeting between about a dozen yoga teachers, most of whom had never spoken, began with an ice-breaker.
Our discussion guide asked us to share one thing that we had learned from yoga and how that knowledge had changed our lives. Although nobody likes these kinds of exercises while they’re happening, they do usually cut through the formality and allow the discussion flow more naturally.
The question was reasonable enough-surely as yoga teachers we’d learned lots of life-changing things from yoga.
Yoga teachers are often truism junkies and proverbial wisdom hoarders.
We keep a truth and wisdom stash not just for the love, but to spice up our discourse when our own modern wit and pithy wisdom are in short supply.
So, back to the phone discussion. Fine with the question, I closed my eyes and reflected.
“What have I learned from yoga and how has it changed my life?”
The answer that immediately appeared was, “That yogis are just people, and that is enough.” My reaction: “Huh?” Sort of surprised and unsure what the words were really getting at. The statement was plain and simple, yet—what does it mean? Anything?
I disengaged from my own inquiry to listen to the other teachers already rolling out their answers. There was scarcely a pause between one voice and the next. The enthusiasm was really high.
Quite a few said that they had learned so much that choosing one lesson learned was challenging. But everyone quickly supplied full answers, even if a little rambling.
“I’ve learned that I can do anything” one voice chimed.
“That when things get too tough, I can go to my mat and get out of my head and always feel better, even if I still have no answers.”
And so on.
I agreed with everything everyone else said, but yet, I didn’t feel entirely satisfied with the answers. Something was missing or off the mark somehow. Another voice was beaming, “I’m a much better person because of yoga…” My inner response was, “…well, yes, me too, but I might have become a better person without a yoga practice—hmmm.”
Another voice declared, “I’m so thankful for my practice and have learned to feel gratitude for all that I have.”
I realized that my answer—in contrast to everyone else’s—might sound limiting, diminishing, even mean.
Who wants to be a killjoy?
Me to me: “Maybe the answer is too bland. Does it actually mean anything?”
So not only was I going to look like a meanie, I would look like a meanie ignoramus.
My turn to share was coming up. Maybe I should just say something positive because I definitely feel that yoga really has brought positive change. Lots of nice stories came to mind. That my practice had taught me how to care for myself and had helped me link my poetic voice with my animal body.
Then it was my turn. Yikes. Ok.
“That yogis are just people, and that’s enough.”
And then I found myself saying nothing. Total silence from the others. I imagined them all just blankly looking at their phones—not necessarily shocked or offended but kind of like, “Huh?” Same reaction I had at first.
The pause continued.
I wasn’t afraid, but I barely moved, even my thoughts paused. Looking back, I have little recollection of that silent suspended moment except that it seemed long but was probably only a few seconds.
Then someone—not the guide—jumped in, “Thank you!” Deep emphasis on the word “Thank.”
Was that sarcasm? No idea.
Then the guide directed the question back at me.
“Yeah, thank you, it’s actually really true, can you go a little deeper into what you mean?”
My response was something like, “I’d really like to, but I don’t know what it means really and I also can’t really say it’s an appropriate or helpful thought. But I just gotta say it.”
Then, lots of soft chuckling. Even I was chuckling.
Then, the guide: “Well—it kind of is what it is I guess, so—who’s next to share?” and on the sharing went.
I have to admit that at that point I kind of slouched inside. Yuck. “It is what it is.” Yes, everything is what it is. Obvious enough. I guess the expression was just a segue out of a weird moment of a stuck discussion.Thanks to me. Oh well. I hadn’t intended to be a killjoy.
I let go of it for the time being and joined the discussion.
Putting my phone away afterwards, I felt good. I also didn’t find myself dwelling on the awkward episode the way I sometimes can.
Anyway, later, the episode was brought back to me. I received an email from a teacher—not the guide–but the one who had said “Thank you!” after my silly share. She wrote:
“Thanks for the “yogis are just people” share and for just letting it stand without trying to make an affirmation. It was affirmative for me though, because one thing I’ve learned being a yoga teacher is that I feel like I have to be perfect or to try to be perfect. People know it’s bullshit when I do that. But then when I screw up, especially in front of other teachers, I feel like I’m being judged. And your answer was just like—BOOM—that’s right, I’m just a person. What’s wrong with that? If I was a higher being, I wouldn’t need yoga.”
My reply: “Actually, thank you.”
Maybe that’s what I had meant.
All I know is I just had to say it.
Here’s my reflection:
I do have a truth and wisdom stash. It’s pretty dense. Some of it dusty. It contains all the quotes I’ve memorized or can paraphrase and all those I can Google. And as for pithy bits of my own wit and wisdom—I’m a frequent over-spicer. But sometimes even I can let a totally raw thought be enough, because “it is what it is” after all, with or without the spice. You can quote me on that—and yes, I know. Pithy ending.
Tina Foster has been a yoga practitioner for 20+ years. She’s also a yoga teacher and mentor, Thai Massagist and writer—with lots of other interests. In life, she looks for the yoga in the yoga—but also for the yoga in everything else.
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Asst. Editor: Wendy Keslick/Ed: Bryonie Wise