Yoga Sutra 11.6
False identity occurs when we identify with tools of perception instead of the True Self.
At the end of every August the town comes back to life as kids from all over the world, make their way to the university for a new fall semester. These kids have worked hard to maintain good grades throughout high school. They’ve scored well on their SATs and wrote impressive essays. They’ve scrambled some plan to pay for such an expensive education at a highly competitive school. Once they have unloaded their “Bed in a Bag” and basic living items freshly bought from Bed, Bath & Beyond, their parents leave and they’re left with a few days of weekend before school starts.
During this time, the yoga studio where I teach opens their doors for 4 whole days of free yoga. That’s around 24 classes with the ability to squeeze in 70 students per class. We teachers equally love and dread free class weekend. It’s busy. It’s a tad overwhelming. It’s very hot. It is also an opportunity to show new students that yoga can be a lovely place for them to find peace in their soon-to-be very busy lives.
Free class weekend brings mostly very new students who are trying yoga for the first time. They are often nervous and don’t know the etiquette of a yoga studio. They are loud. They have their phones next to their mats. They might be wearing socks. I let everyone settle on their mats and put them in child’s pose. I welcome them and while everyone’s head is down, I say something along the lines of, “Welcome. I’m so glad you’re here. A few things: if you have your phone with you, turn it off and please don’t bring it into the studio room with you next time. This is a time to turn your focus inward, so please no talking. Over the next hour, I will lead you through movement and shapes and a specific type of breathing which you may or may not like. That’s Ok! Give it a try. Whether you are new to yoga or have a strong practice, I encourage you to stay connected to what you are feeling and not reacting to what you are seeing. If you have a yoga asana practice, I ask you to please stay with what I am teaching because it can be very confusing to see another student doing a completely different pose than what is being taught. If you have socks on, reach back and peel them off. Bare feet are strong feet!” and then we begin to focus on breath and the class begins. It’s at this point that my dread of so many people crammed into a warm, humid space dissipates and I get genuinely excited at the opportunity of teaching people basic asana and vinyasa flows with a light heart and a fair bit of silliness to help them become comfortable in this new space.
It is at this same studio that I co-teach a 200 hour teacher training. The majority of the students in teacher training are university students, usually in their senior year. There are also usually a few “grown ups” as I call them, people who are older and well out of school. In every cohort, there is a beautiful sharing of ideas and kind deeds. Near the end of every training, we have a day where students share their reflections of where they are versus where they have come from. It is a time to reflect on their journeys so far, and a time to share where they’re directing their intentions moving forward. It’s one of my favorite days of training, as a beautiful group of people who have spent a lot of time together share their strengths and weaknesses and shed a good bit of laughter and tears. I’ve co-taught nine trainings now and every time I can’t help but listen to their reflections with my Mama heart, especially for the young ones. There is almost always themes of self-loathing, bodily shame, self-harm and an overall sense that they will never be enough. Years of competition in dance, sports, academics, in their families and in their communities may have brought them to a prestigious university but they are left feeling like everything is a competition, and it is very daunting to look at life as something to be the winner of. These students often start a yoga practice to be more fit, to do Instagram-worthy hollow-back handstands or some bad ass arm balances. What they learn is that being fit isn’t nearly as important as self-love and compassion. When one can truly love and hold compassion for themselves, they can shine that same light onto others. It is almost always this very basic sentiment that leads them to want to share the gift of yoga. Even in its Americanized fitness version, the message of yoga is always there underneath. It’s the prize at the bottom of the cereal box: Love begets love. Regardless of asana ability, over time, the student finds an inner peace that cannot be explained by a neatly executed inversion.
Knowing that a new batch of young students would be flooding the studio this month, I created a message for the community board at the studio, printed on postcard-size paper. On the front it states Yoga Sutra 11.6 with the following message:
You are not your outward appearance You are not a fancy yoga pose. You are not the money you have in the bank. You are not your grades, your major, your career, your family or friends. You are your own unique and beautiful self and aUM Yoga welcomes you AS YOU ARE. Leave comparison, competition and envy far away from your mat and tap into your inner strength one breath at a time.
On the back of the card is a list of mental health resources in the area for both students and non students. My intentions with this card is to remind students of why they come to their yoga mat for a practice. It is my hope that I can not only help people learn how to do yoga asana, but that I can also show them the way to self-compassion, so that they in turn, can do the same for others. To remind them that they are not alone, and if they need help off the mat, there are resources to start them on their path of healing.
What can we do to be better teachers? Better friends? Better humans?
We can try to…
Be observant. Ask questions. Learn. Listen. Try not to be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Kindly offer your assistance if you think you can help another. Speak up. Be persistent. Honor the True Self.