“Walking the walk means you’re very genuine and down to earth. You take the teachings as good medicine for the things that are confusing to you and for the suffering in your life.” ~ Pema Chodron
Some time ago, my husband and I had an argument. I can’t remember what it was about now, but I do remember this: he told me I wasn’t practicing what I preached—that I wasn’t being very yogic.
This stopped me in my tracks. And he was totally right.
Anyone putting their practice into, well, practice would not be feeling as mad as I was. Of course, it was just me being human. But it was still a hard pill to swallow because I teach this stuff.
And, after years of practice, I expect more of myself.
All the qualities that I teach my students—awareness, equilibrium, openness, ease, compassion, the list goes on—are often completely absent in me when they are most called for. This is because, as most of us may have figured out not very far into our yoga journeys, practising yoga on the mat is a whole lot easier than practising it off the mat.
So I swallowed, and I tried again. Because I’ve learnt that this is all I can do sometimes.
I’ve also learnt from knowing other yoga teachers that we’re often the ones who need the practice more than anyone. It’s what drew us to it in the first place; we tend to have formidable shadow selves.
“You only ever teach what it is you need to learn, quite frankly.” ~ Seane Corn
Our practice repeatedly helps us discover the sanctuary within, and more and more to reside there. This is why we want to share it with others. We’re pretty sure that they need it as much as we do. We can’t understand how anyone could possibly live without it.
But the tricky part comes when you take your yoga out of the post-savasana glow of the studio. When you’re stuck in traffic or someone really pisses you off: that’s when your practice is tested. And even—or especially—yoga teachers forget to connect one with the other.
It’s easy to be an angel on the yoga mat and an arsehole off it.
In fact, there are a lot of downright arseholes out there preaching the yogic gospel on the mat and doing, well, anything and everything else off it.
I’m not saying that yoga teachers should be super-human do-gooders, or that we aren’t allowed to fail and fail again, but we owe it to ourselves, and to our students, to be aware of our own behaviour. Not just when we’re at the front of the class, but also when we’re not.
If we limit our yoga to an hour of working on our flexibility, strength and balance and then move off into our days and nights leaving everything we so carefully cultivated behind, our practice and our teaching is of little use.
“The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.” ~ T.K.V. Desikachar
I can’t pretend to have a definitive “How To” guide because, as we’ve already established, I am human and mostly clueless. But I have a few simple, practical ideas to practice our yoga off the mat. They’re pretty much exactly what I do when struggling on the mat, and they seem to work for me when I’m struggling off it too.
1. Shift attention
I consciously turn my focus away from everyone else and onto myself. I don’t mean in a self-centred, “it’s all about me” way; I mean I really try to forget about what everyone else is doing, right or wrong, and rather focus on what I can change: my own behaviour.
This sounds like a pretty fundamental thing and a lot of us might think: “Sure, but I’m already working on myself. I practice yoga, right?”
But we all spend probably too much time and energy on what people around us could do better. We think about it, talk about it, write about it and get hung up on it. If we stopped all that and resolved to keep our mindful attention on ourselves, our actions might start to speak louder than our words ever could. It’s also a hell of a relief to just drop those judgements and expectations for a bit.
2. Find roots
When I’m losing it, or even if I’ve already lost it, I find rooting to be one of the most useful things I can do. Literally, sinking myself into my body and feeling my own weight, noticing what’s supporting me, grounding into that support and breathing into those roots.
When we lose it: our temper, our centre, our balance, however we want to think of it, we’ve lost our connection. Our connection with our breath, with our heartbeat, with each other and with what is real and what is now. We fly off into our own mental picture of reality. And it’s easy to get lost once we’re there.
So next time we lose our balance, we can try feeling our weight through the soles of our feet to find our equilibrium.
3. Switch position
The thing is, everyone is doing the best they can with what they know. If we knew better, we’d do better. We’re all alike. So when it comes to conflict or challenging situations, I find that if I can shift my perspective to put myself in someone else’s shoes even for an instant, it tends to diffuse my madness because I realise our same-ness.
We all have people or situations that make us crazy. But if we can determine to practice acceptance without judgement (and, yes, it’s an ongoing practice), we’ll end up doing ourselves a favour in the end.
Compassion and awareness just feel better. Though hard to administer, they are good medicine.
And for those of us who teach, if we’re going to give the gift of this good medicine to others, we need to learn how to take it first.
“Do your practice, and all is coming.” ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Author: Khara-Jade Warren
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Photo: Elephant Archives