I used to say, “If you do everything I tell you to do in a yoga class, you must not be paying attention to yourself.”
I say it a little nicer now. I say, “More important than any choice you make, or even what you choose in a yoga class, is your relationship to that choice.” I’m talking about why you made that choice. Your level and degree of awareness of that choice. Are you even conscious that you’ve chosen this? Were you here as you were arriving to this moment?
Look, we’re all tired, we can all get disheartened and overwhelmed, and we’d all love a magic pill. I completely understand the impulse to walk into a room, shut your brain off, and let someone else tell you what to do, secure in the knowledge that you’ll walk out of that room feeling better. That’s a great instinct and a welcome break for most of us. Any spinning class, rowing class, fitness class will give you exactly that.
But that’s not a yoga practice. That’s not an awareness practice. That’s not a practice that’s going to change your life once you’ve left the room. It’s not going to help you narrow your focus on race day. It’s not going to help you notice your temper building when you’re talking to your boss. It’s not helping you tell the difference between stress and hunger. And it’s not going to show you that you’re yelling at your spouse about the dishes while you’re actually pissed about something that happened before y’all ever even met.
You ever walk out of yoga class all sweaty and blissed out, thinking you’ve let some stuff go, and then found yourself screaming in traffic or right back to that same pesky and destructive thought you always have just 20 minutes later? Yeah, you weren’t in yogic bliss. You were just cooked.
Truth Time: we are all choosing constantly, it’s just that a lot of our choices happen unconsciously. We notice this person’s irritating habit and not that person’s loving gaze. We choose to see obstacles as frustrations when we could realize they’re pointing us somewhere else. Right now you are choosing whether to let these words in, or to come up with a reason you don’t need this and scroll on. And the yoga practice, above all, is an exercise in consciousness. What are you noticing, what are you choosing, what is shaping your worldview, and are you even aware that that’s what’s happening?
I humbly offer a couple reasons I make shitty, unconscious choices:
Any of those look familiar to you?
I did some research on yoga and cancer recovery awhile back (shoutout KJo you absolute warrior), and something that came up repeatedly was the role quality of life (QoL) plays in recovery. Things like pain recognition and management, maintaining hope and the ability to feel present and at ease. Doing only today’s work today; making this choice about nothing other than this moment and not letting fear drive the bus. QoL is subjective; it changes relative to what the viewer is noticing; what they’re conscious of. You can be in the exact same situation as someone else but have better QoL than they do because of what you’ve placed your attention on.
So as much as I love “turning my brain off” and letting someone lead me through a class, when I do that, I’m not practicing directing my awareness. I’m not honing the self-mastery of my quality of life. I’m not choosing what makes it into my field of vision which dictates my stress levels, my tendency toward self-destruction, the rate at which my mitochondria fry themselves, the way my relationships deteriorate because I have no control over what’s coming out of my mouth. What I AM doing is putting a big FOR SALE sign on my forehead that says most triggering, most habitual, stickiest thought wins.
That’s why you have to disobey in yoga class on occasion. If you’re not present to your choices, you’re just reacting to your triggers. If you’re not consciously directing your attention, it just goes to the highest bidder, and those low-vibration, unconscious patterns have deep pockets and no shame. Let’s get free of that, shall we?
I love you and I’m in this with you.