It has been almost 15 years since I took my first yoga certification. And it has been probably 14 years since I became a full-time yoga instructor. My life between the ages of 25 and 39 has centered around the practice and teaching and study and business of yoga.
My practice has morphed so many times, like one of those beautiful cephalopods that change color based on the environment they are in. I could definitely say that my practice has always been a reflection of my life's ups and downs. Many times my practice was the refuge to cope with life's challenges; other times, the practice itself was the challenge. There were periods of love and hate. Closeness and distance and everything in between.
I would like to share some of the things that I've learned over the years, things I've been reflecting upon lately. Hopefully this offers food for thought for those who are new to yoga; who knows, perhaps even for seasoned practitioners. This is based on my experience and it’s purely subjective.
If 39-year old me could meet 25-year old me, this is the advice I would give him.
You will learn a lot from your teachers. But the most important lessons will come from facing your own mind on the mat. Learn to listen to that voice, acknowledge it. And communicate with it.
The postures are great. But the real gift is learning to treat your body with kindness and respect. At times you will use the practice and the postural aspect of it to satisfy your ego. Remember that this is a stage that many go through, look at the bigger picture, and remember the gifts of the practice are innumerable and they exceed the shape of a pose.
Your teachers are human beings. They are real-estate brokers who became yoga teachers. Ex-lawyers. Moms who teach yoga. Sales executives who decided on a midlife change of career. Your teachers are not enlightened beings who descended to earth to spread enlightenment. The longer you hang around the yoga scene, the more you'll notice that quite a few yoga teachers have a few missing screws. But others have genuine hearts and wisdom that shine through in every word and action.
For the most part your teachers will want to share the teachings. When that is not the case, wish them well. They are teaching you a lesson. Even when their behavior doesn’t match your expectations or they fumble and embarrass themselves, they are showing you what kind of teacher you want to be (or don't want to be) and for that we acknowledge their presence.
Yoga is not a religion. Schools of yoga, and lineages, are often managed as corporations. Find out who are you studying with, and who they studied with and who that person studied with. Don’t drink any Kool-Aid. There are many Kool-Aids out there, and some of them are really toxic. But Yoga is Yoga. Learn all yogas that are wholesome and beneficial. Don’t push your style of yoga on anyone else. Everything has its own time.
Be okay when the practice recedes to an old abandoned drawer. You might think that you've lost your love of yoga. That’s not true. It will change shapes, colors, intensity, rhythm, but the gifts of the practice will always belong to you.
The greatest gift of learning Yoga will be sharing it with others. In being a teacher you will learn to communicate with others, to treat others with kindness, to empathize with others who are experiencing difficulty or pain, and in that process you will learn the meaning of forgiveness and tolerance. In the teachings of yoga you will find the strength to keep going when you feel defeated.
Yoga will always be with you. You will practice yoga every moment of your life, whether or not you are standing on a mat. The practice and the teachings expand far beyond the studio walls. They encompass your ethical behaviors, your work choices, your way of speaking, who you associate with, what you eat and purchase. Ultimately they will be there with you in every breath, until the last one you take.