The man to the left of me in yoga was in a huff.
Obviously, he’d had a bad morning. I could tell by the way he stomped around, tossing his towel and sighing loudly so that everyone in his general vicinity could see that he was not pleased with something.
Turned out it was me.
“You’re in my spot,” he said.
By that time, the room was already full and class was about to begin. I was surrounded by yogis on all sides, so there was nowhere else to go. I gestured toward my right.
“Well, that guy took my spot because I got here a little later than usual,” I joked, thinking it shouldn’t be such a big deal.
But the man was really upset.
My first reaction, which is a fair one, was to think, come on. This is ridiculous. This isn’t elementary school, man. There are no assigned seats in yoga. It’s first come, first served and it really doesn’t matter. We squeeze in, we make room and then we get down to the real work of focusing, stretching, sweating, breathing out the negative and breathing in the good energy.
Usually by the time we get to the balancing poses, I’ve forgotten where I am anyway. My universe is right there on my mat and nothing else exists.
But that day was different. As I warmed up, I was distracted because I was thinking about the man whose spot I, allegedly, took. I forgave him. To me, it wasn’t a big deal and who knows what else was going on his life. Maybe something else was making him unhappy. There was really no way for me to ever know, so I meditated on having compassion for his situation and when I did so, something else dawned on me which had everything to do with me and very little to do with him.
I was the exact same way. Without realizing it, I’d gotten into a yoga rut.
I went to the same classes on the same days with the same teachers at the same times and zombie-like, made my way to my usual spot in the back of the studio over by the door.
The routine felt safe and comfortable. I loved the familiarity. I knew what was coming, what to expect and I knew that I could do it because I’d done it all before and in the same spot, which was also, apparently, this other dude’s favorite spot too.
Yoga is about growth and expansion. It is a practice which stretches not only our bodies, but our psychological boundaries. The discipline is bound to be uncomfortable at times as we risk vulnerability and release toxic emotions and pent up karma. Many of us probably allow ourselves to fall into repetitive behaviors as a way to combat the anxiety this vulnerability causes.
I know I did.
Being a yogi is about digging yourself out of ruts and learning to be flexible enough to handle change. While it may be more uncomfortable than our beloved, same old rituals, when we realize we’re in a yoga rut we must challenge ourselves to get out and try something new.
Start small, of course. Move that mat to the opposite side of the room. Look around and notice the difference. A different visual perspective may give you a different mental or spiritual perspective to. Be open to it.
I switched up my routine by going to some morning instead of all afternoon classes. Practicing at different times of day helps me to better understand my body better. I’m more contemplative and creative in the morning and more physically energetic in the afternoon. This changes the way I experience a yoga class and I realize that what works best for me is to switch up morning and afternoon classes a few days a week to create a greater sense of balance within myself.
We all have our favorite teachers. We like their flows, their voices or they inspire us in a special way and so we flock to their classes. Give them a little break and get to know some other teachers. I’ve noticed that yoga teachers are vastly different, but that each teacher’s style brings me new knowledge and new understanding of yoga and of myself. Each teacher shares his or her special gifts, so show up to receive that variety.
I’ve found that going to unfamiliar teachers’ classes even strengthens my body. When I go to the same teachers’ classes over and over, I realize that we do a lot of similar flows and similar poses and I like this because I get better at them and they seem easier, but when I go to a class with a teacher I’ve never had, my body is challenged to try new poses in new ways, usually in a different order than I’m accustomed to and I have to work harder.
Most of the yoga teachers I know like to visit a variety of studios, practicing many different styles of yoga. By doing this, they set an excellent example for their students. If you are in a yoga rut, break out by going somewhere else. If you usually do cool yoga, go to a hot Vinyasa class. You’re into athletic power yoga? Then maybe check out a class at the super New Agey, local ashram. You just never know what miracles can happen when you try something new. Did you know there are yoga classes in the water on paddle boards? Ever try suspension yoga? It’s like something out of the circus and it’s incredibly fun. Do a little research and see what kinds of yoga are available where you live, then go on a yoga adventure.
The next time you get annoyed that someone takes your spot in class, calm down and be grateful. This is the Universe’s way of giving you that little nudge and telling you that you’re doing great, you’ve made it this far, but now it’s time to expand your practice.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant archives