April 9, 2014

Taking the Competition Out of Yoga.

yoga outdoors asana platform

How do we get competition out of the yoga world?

Amid the proliferation of yoga studios, teacher training programs, companies selling yoga apparel, and yogis selling themselves, it would be silly not to recognize a basic contradiction in the world of modern yoga; we are a group of people who say we are dedicated to putting our ego aside, and yet we have created a culture of competition wherein the ego is often our master.

The root of the problem lies in the awkward marriage between capitalism and yogic philosophy.

On a practical level, if we in the yoga industry are ever to support ourselves doing what we love, we often believe we need to be rather un-yogic at least some of the time. Even the most authentic working yogis have to dirty their hands with the business side of their practice, which can put us smack in the middle of ego-town.

Of course, not everyone is trying to make money from yoga—some people are simply trying to practice it. But because studios can only exist if they are based on trade, there is a prevalent, if unspoken, climate of competition.

For all of our statements about allowing ourselves to be where we are because that’s exactly where we need to be, it’s still hard to be a teacher with an empty class, a locally owned studio which is being put out of business by a corporately owned one, or even a yoga student who still can’t get their heels to hit the ground in dog.

So how do we get the element of competition out of the yoga world?

The same way we do everything else in yoga; practice.

I think it’s important to first acknowledge that this is an issue. Ignoring the egoism in yogic environments, or even worse, within ourselves, only gives it fertile ground to grow.

We all struggle with feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and fear—even that super self confident, internationally famous teacher who seems to vibrate with inner peace.

The question is, what do we do when we have those feelings?

For me, remembering that there is enough of everything for everyone helps a lot.

It may not seem that way—if someone else’s class is packed and mine is dead, it’s easy to think, “She stole my students. There’s nobody left for me.” The truth is more probably that she is simply offering something that resonates better—for whatever reason—than what I am offering.

Instead of indulging my jealous feelings, I can acknowledge them and then try and see where I might connect with students better. Or I might decide that what I’m doing is right for me and stick to the program, come what may. Either way, an honest evaluation of my fear, and then the decision not to have a fear based response, is better than marching around under a black cloud with a chip on my shoulder.

It works the same way when it comes to our practice. Nobody else’s success is predicated on my failure. In other words, the tiny ballerina-looking yogi who just moved from firefly to headstand as easily as if she were stirring honey into her tea should be irrelevant to me. She has her practice and I have mine.

That’s easy enough to say, but the reality is, it’s hard to relinquish envy.

One way I find helpful in canceling out jealous feelings is the habit of wishing all people well. As no ones success is predicated on my failure, so my success is not predicated on anyone else’s failure. If I understand that, then being happy for the teacher whose class is packed, or the guy I just saw doing a one handed nakrasana—genuinely happy—empowers me and will eventually help my own path to unfold the way it’s meant to.

But how do we actually do that?

This mantra works wonders; “Your happiness is my happiness. We are one. Your success is my success. We are one. Your blessings are my blessings. We are one.”

If I feel jealousy flare, I stop and meditate on these words, trying to beam them out toward whoever is the source of my discomfort. I repeat this mantra until I feel the icy grip of negativity loosen inside. It never takes more than a few moments.

Knowing we have the ability to wish others well is a powerful thing. Believing that we can all be successful and that we can all have the things we want, and that our individual achievements magnify, rather than detract, from each other, is a radical change in thinking.

If we can dedicate ourselves to lifting one another up, rather than tearing one another down– even in the privacy of our own minds—we might have a chance to resolve, at least for ourselves, the destructive force of competition in yoga.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Lachlan Hardy/Flickr

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