“You’ve been teaching differently,” they say. They, my students, say that it’s different, but that they like it.
The asana sequences that I teach haven’t changed. I give the same cues, play similar music, and use the same jokes that my regulars have probably heard too many times. What has changed is something deeper.
The reason for this change wasn’t conscious. I started teaching differently because I started practicing differently.
When I first started practicing yoga, it was all about me. The small me, the disconnected me, the me that has shit to do and hips to open and a core that needs strengthening and a mind to clear. And although practicing yoga for solely yourself is absolutely fine, it can get…old. It starts to feel stale. On top of that, it also takes a very egoless, gentle person to practice me-centered yoga and get any benefit out of it. In my experience, when we practice just for ourselves and the ego is inflamed even in the slightest bit, it leads to internal negativity. We think, why can’t I twist any deeper, why doesn’t my head touch my shin, why can that person do a handstand and I can’t, why am I thinking about what to make for dinner later, and why, oh why, do I suck so bad at yoga and life in general? On some days (or months), I’m egotistical and not so gentle with myself, so a practice that’s geared towards opening MY hips and finally getting MY body into this one pose and clearing MY mind doesn’t really work so well.
So, when I’m feeling ego-ey, or even if I’m not, I dedicate my yoga practice that day to someone or something outside of myself. I started doing this when I lived in Statesboro, not really knowing what I was doing. I remember feeling so connected to the other students in my yoga classes, so much that I would pick some person at random in class with me and devote my practice to them. Then I started dedicating to someone who was sad or troubled that day, or needed extra love. Sometimes it would be my roommate, or my Mom, or a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, or my pet turtle. It didn’t matter who or what I dedicated my yoga to–it worked, every time. It transitioned me out of “me” mode and into The Big Picture. It felt really, really good.
It started becoming second nature to devote my practice to something outside of me, not even a certain person or thing. It was just an overall feeling of external devotion and dedication.
Recently I’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga, a lot, and a few weeks ago I started to feel the slight tug of ego, seducing me back into me-centered yoga. Being able to do some of the more challenging poses made me feel like I was super yogi, and not being able to do the “easy”, seated hip-openers made me feel like sucky yogi. This time, I knew that this was not a path that I wanted to go down. So I started the conscious dedicating again. To someone in the class, my teacher, a friend, the candle in the front of the room. Anything.
Now I encourage my students to do the same. Not usually in an in-your-face kind of way, but in subtle ways.
When we practice keeping someone or something else in mind, we realize that the person or thing just wants us to be happy. They want us to work hard if working hard will make us happy, and back off when it feels right. They want us to have fun and be gentle and easy. They don’t give a damn about how open our hips are or how long we can stay in headstand. These are things that only our ego cares about. So when we practice for them, we stop caring too. We start having fun and being light and getting some real work done. Spiritual kind of work.
Some days I can practice without dedicating, but again, it takes a very special day to do that and a very deliberate suppression of ego.
I strive to take all of the lessons I learn and discoveries I make on my yoga mat and apply them to the other twenty two and a half hours of my day. What I speak of today is no different. When I feel like I’m rushing, or half-assing, or being otherwise unmindful of being alive, I again, do a conscious dedication. Maybe a whole day is devoted to something outside of me, or maybe just washing the dishes or making dinner. Whatever it is, it helps me get out of my head and my little life and connect to the Big Stuff.
So try it. Dedicate. Devote. Marvel at something or someone other than yourself. Celebrate it, open up a bottle of champagne for it. Love it with all your heart. Doing this, is actually, not selfless, it will come back to you, in the best of ways. Maybe it will even catch on–yoga is, after all, a spiritually transmitted disease.
The truth is that when we do this, we are actually not devoting to something external, outside of ourselves, something “other”. We are recognizing our connection to that person or thing. We are seeing ourselves in something outside of ourselves. We are seeing the internal in the external.
This will make you fall in love with the whole world.