How do you know when the yoga practice is taking root?
This is a question that all yogis need to approach at some point in their practicing career. One might say that a true testament to the powers of this practice lie in physical strength, skillful form and unprecedented balance – but I am going to argue that is wrong. The reason for my rebuttal is that from a teacher’s perspective, I witness many students who have textbook form and surreal strength physically, but from a mental perspective are completely lost. In addition I know an equal amount of students who demonstrate average form but have the most mindful practice. So is mindfulness a marker of more accuracy? A few months ago I would say yes. I am not so sure now. Mindfulness can be as equally delusional as perfection of form. If we are not “minding the mind”, as Ganesh Mohan would say, we could easily use mindfulness to hide behind. After all, we could mindfully do one wrong.
To me, the knowing comes from bearing witness (in our daily life) to the changes in our character. By witnessing the reconditioning of our body-mind through experience is the true indicator of the success of the practice. I look for the moments in my life where I see myself responding from a different place. Where the way I acted in the present moment was not the same as I would have in the past. This, to me, demonstrates that the yoga practice is rooting itself firmly in my life.
I was brought to this realization just the other day. I was driving down the coast highway from a town called Cardiff into Solana Beach. It is a short stretch that hugs the ocean. The speed limit in Cardiff is 45 MPH, so although picturesque, you are encouraged to proceed through. At the landmark sign in which Cardiff becomes Solana Beach, the speed limit drops to 35 MPH. At about that exact same spot where the speed limit changes was a police officer taking aim with a radar gun. And like fishing in a barrel, he got me going 45 MPH in a 35 MPH. As he pulled me over I was completely unaware of what I had done (at the time not knowing the speed limit lowered) but well aware of what the outcome would be.
In the time he spent writing out my ticket, the craziest of things happen. Where frustration and anger once lived, something else existed. I felt gratitude. I felt lucky that it was me who got the ticket and not someone else. Being a yoga instructor, I don’t make a lot of money, but I love what I do. I get by and can easily take on a few more classes to pay for the traffic fine. Someone else may not be so fortunate. Someone else could make minimum wage doing something they hate. They may work so much that they are absent from their family and friends. This ticket to them could be a devastating blow.
I could not believe where my mind had taken me. Where I once would have been completely heated – compassion had delivered me joy. This shift is what yoga offers us. When the practice solidifies and takes root, our patterned way of existence dissolves. Experience is the marker of the success and the currency of the practice. Mindfulness can be a wonderful discipline to allow us to see clearly, but it does not act alone. First yoga needs to bring us to ourselves.
“It is never too late to turn on the light. Your ability to break an unhealthy habit or turn off an old tape doesn’t depend on how long it has been running; a shift in perspective doesn’t depend on how long you’ve held on to the old view. When you flip the switch in that attic, it doesn’t matter whether its been dark for ten minutes, ten years or ten decades. The light still illuminates the room and banishes the murkiness, letting you see the things you couldn’t see before. It’s never too late to take a moment to look.” Sharon Salzberg