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January 14, 2014

Becoming Enlightened by Teaching Yoga. ~ Val Geisler

At nearly six months into this pregnancy, I am physically unable to do many of the poses I love so much and have come to rely on in my personal practice.

Quite often I catch my inner dialogue as I stand in front of a class sounding something like:

Oh, yes, I used to be able to bind in that pose too.

Look at those fancy twists, isn’t that special?

Ugh, I can’t even watch those back bends. I used to be able to do all of that. Now I get up early for a gentle practice and meditation and then watch the poses I long for happening so easily in other bodies. This sucks.

It’s only been 20 minutes? I’m hungry.

You get the idea.

Let me be clear: this is my small self coming through. And, thankfully, my small self is, in
fact, pretty small. These thoughts don’t all come at once, or even stick around for an
entire class. They do, however, show up one or two at a time like a big red siren going
off in my head.

(I am aware that I will be able to return to my practice as it was and that pregnancy is temporary. I know this in my soul, it just doesn’t make it all the way to my brain every day. And so, the thoughts happen.)

These small thoughts pierce the beauty that exists in the room full of breath, asana and
stunning focus. They pervade the mindful focus I have on my students and I am lost.
Gone from the room. Unfocused. Not on this mat of life, not practicing.

Seven words are repeated over and over by teachers and students all around the world:
“Practice, practice, practice and all is coming.” A close second: “Yoga is 99 percent practice and 1 percent theory.”

Pattabhi Jois knew the deeper meaning of these simple phrases. It’s up to us to seek that meaning daily.

In the West, we hear those words and take them to mean a physical practice: asana.
“Keep coming to class,” we hear our teachers say. Keep sweating. Keep stretching and
bending and trying to look like that girl on the mat across the room.

But that’s not it. Not at all.

Yes, a physical practice is one part of the path, but it is not the whole. Practice means all parts of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana.

My husband asks me every day, “How was practice?”

I used to respond, “Well, I just meditated today.” or “I didn’t go to practice, I was teaching this morning.”

Today I realized: it’s all practice.

Meditation is a practice that takes many a lifetime (or longer) to master. Teaching, being present for each and every student, showing up and leaving your shit at the door, is a practice. This is what Guruji was talking about.

Forgetting what our bodies would or wouldn’t let us do that day. Letting go of that short reply from the mechanic when the car needed an oil change. Leaving behind the sass from your six year old, partner or roommate.

Being the person who leads the room doesn’t make one an enlightened or perfect
being. Please, let me never know what that perfection looks like. The daily practice of
working towards enlightenment is what gets my feet out of bed and on those
hardwood floors each day.

See, all teachers are, at heart, students. We are all seeking a still place where the
inner dialogue goes quiet. Seeking the part where “all is coming.” We get that from our
students, our teachers, ourselves. And, sometimes, from reflecting on those small voices that pop up to show us that we are still on the path but not quite there just yet.

That’s why I practice; that’s why I teach.

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Assistant Editor: Michelle Margaret

Photo: Flickr

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