A friend and student in my yoga class arrived in the class really hassled. ‘God I’m so busy. I’m rushing from one thing to the next and I left the house an absolute tip.’ She did the class and went home.
I bumped into her the next morning. She said with wide eyes ‘Its amazing you know. When I left the house it looked such a mess. Then I did your yoga class and came home and everything looked completely different. The house looked really tidy and neat. It’s truly amazing.’ We both stood for a while in awe at the transformational power of yoga. And afterwards I wandered around marvelling at my own exceptional skills as a teacher.
The next week at class she said ‘Clare I’ve got something to tell you…’ then started laughing so much she could hardly speak. Through the laughter I managed to get the gist of it.
Turns out that while she had been in yoga the week before her fiance had gone into her house to pick something up. He had seen the enormous mess she had left and had wiped, dusted, put away and hoovered before heading out for the night. She hadn’t seen him that night or morning because he had come in late and left early for work so didn’t find out what he had done until the evening.
Yoga. What does it do? It doesn’t clean the house while you are a mile away in downward dog. That’s for sure.
But no one really thinks that. Apart from me. For a week. And now I don’t think that any more. Shame.
What we do think it does is that it calms our mind, relaxes us, give us more freedom, helps us think positively, releases mental tension and anxiety.
As a yoga teacher of 12 years I can say that it doesn’t do any of that. It can’t. It doesn’t have that power. If it did, every single person around the world going into a class would come out with the same feeling. And we all know that’s not the case.
I’ve come out of classes pissed off and irritated and angry at the teacher, frustrated at myself, more wound up than when I went in while my friends have been blissful, energised, on top of the world. What’s going on? It’s not the teacher. It’s not the room. If it were everyone would be experiencing exactly the same effects of the class.
I’ve taught a class and within half an hour of returning home I’ve had an email from someone really cross that they could hear the traffic and the lights were too dim and that the class did nothing for them and an email from someone saying that it was the best class they’d ever been in.
Same class. Completely different experiences.
So what is happening here?
The obvious principle at work is that none of us can experience the class directly. We all have different realities. These different realities are because we experience every class we ever go to (in fact every single thing in our life) through the thoughts that are going through our mind from moment to moment.
It is never class acting on student to create feelings of calm or annoyance.
It is always individual’s thinking in the moment creating calm or annoyance. Then, unless the individual realises the power of thought in the moment, he or she will automatically attribute those feelings to something that is going on outside of them like a class or other people or the teacher or the teacher’s voice or the lights or the traffic or the poses or the mat.
This is so cool to realise. Because when we do, we also become more aware of several other facts:
1. The class doesn’t have to fix anything
We realise that feelings flow through our bodies in accordance with what we are thinking. We don’t need to change this in any way. We can experience it all. No need to get rid of fear or sadness or concern or annoyance, we can be a space for it all. Our practice (whatever that is – yoga, meditation, art, studying, cycling, running, tai chi, hill climbing, sport, work, wine, shopping, sex…) no longer needs to ‘sort us out’ . Our mind and feelings sort themselves out easily and naturally by themselves. That is what they are designed to do.
2. We are open to learning something.
When we realise that all feelings are OK and that we don’t need the practice or class to ‘fix’ us, we approach it with a new level of peacefulness and realism.
When we feel what we are feeling, knowing that it comes from thought in the moment, we are in the reality of our experience. There is no better place for us than this.
In this powerful place we are open to learning, open to finding out what is useful, open to connecting with the people around us, open to listening to the wisdom of our body and mind.
This is us super charged and the class hasn’t even begun yet!
3. We look inward to whether this is the right practice for us.
This is the really interesting area.
As everything is experienced through thought then essentially everything is neutral other than what our thoughts in the moment project on to it.
At the same time there seems to be a natural, easy, fun or interesting fit for us with certain people, certain activities, certain classes. There is that click or ‘Yes!’ or ‘Found it!’ that simply makes sense for us. This is where soul mates reside, life time fascinations and spiritual homes appear.
It turns out that we are the perfect judge of what is right for us when we are not looking for anything to be right for us.
As we look inward we have a clear guidance that we can follow that has nothing to do with our changing thoughts and associated feelings.
Choosing a class or a teacher or a hobby or a career or a partner from this place brings all our intelligence, wisdom, knowledge to bear. We simply follow what we know to do.
Great teachers will always point us towards what we know deep inside to be true – that we feel our thinking, that thoughts and feelings come and go, that in looking inward instead of to the ever fluctuating outward we always know what is right for us. Great teachers will point us towards the reality of the moment – us on a mat in a room and the marvel of a mind that can create a whole landscape of thought and feeling in an instant.
Great teachers will never instruct us to clear our minds or control our thoughts or think positively or only feel happy, calm feelings or override our own wisdom in order to push harder or achieve more. Great teachers will never point us towards impossibility and struggle and self-blame when we don’t have the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.
Thanks to the on-going revolution in our understanding of mental health, there are many informed teachers out there.
So if yoga can’t make me happy, why would I go?
Who knows! For whatever reason occurs to you in the moment?
For the stretch.
For the space.
For the communion with other souls.
For an hour out of your house.
For the racing heart of the sun salutations.
For the wobbling achievement of a headstand.
To learn something new about your body.
To do something you have never done before.
To go to sleep.
To lie on a mat.
To meet your soul mate.
To explore some truths.
To look at your toes.
To look at the ceiling…
To relish in the intelligent miracle of our body and the creative magnificence of the mind?
How about that?
See you Thursday at 7.30? Bring a mat.
If you’d like to hear more about living in a meditative state without the mat, please join me and the internationally renowned coach, speaker and author, Dr Amy Johnson on our free webinar,