“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Suess
When I started teaching several years ago, there were times I would be a nervous wreck. There is a set amount of time and a specific amount of postures we have to get through. Juggling all of the yoga sequence in a room of over 30 people, with varying levels and degrees of ability, can be daunting.
Every now and then, more often than not, there will be one student who chooses to do something out on their own. While the entire class is in a wide-legged forward fold, they choose to go into dancer’s pose. The two aren’t related at all. What to do? I would become overwhelmed. They are doing something I didn’t suggest or sequence and it set me off, not in anger or in rage, but it’s unexpected. I don’t know how to deal with it. And that’s it, isn’t it - this belief that somehow I need to fix it so that they are doing it correctly.
There’s an old saying about a Buddhist monastery. Some initiates of the monastery would have problems with this incredibly angry man who worked as the groundskeeper. During periods of silence he would be making noise. He would get into fights with some of the monks and play tricks on those he believed broke his rules. He was foul and caused much chaos and confusion with these younger monks. They turned to the head of their order. “Master! Master!” they would cry, “Something must be done about him! He must leave the monastery immediately.” The master turns to them and smiles and says, “What!? You would have me remove my greatest teacher?”
When I began to recognize that it wasn’t this person or idea or thing that was disturbing me but the feelings that arose when this person, idea or thing was present, it began to separate the blame from them to me. That something inside me is hurt, angered, and/or threatened in the presence of this external force. If I can learn to become right with it inside of me, then the outside influence will lose its potency on my internal barometer. It’s about learning to become more unmessable with.
I realized I was afraid. I was afraid that students will see that I didn’t know what I was doing because I could not control everyone in the room. And there is the flaw. When did I ever have control? And when did I think I stopped being human and flawed and prone to mistakes? The more I became OK with myself, the more I was able to allow my students to be themselves too.
I may never be the perfect embodiment of spiritual attainment. I will never have a “yoga voice” The idea of raising my chest and opening my heart out to the universe makes me want to gag a little inside, and I don’t gag. I don’t fit the mold of the regular “yoga teacher” and have no intention of ever trying to. I am the Kung-Fu Panda of Yoga. I’m Po, don’t you know!
Do what is right for you and your ultimate goal, life ambition has the freedom to manifest. Don’t worry if you don’t fit the mold. By you becoming who you want to be, the mold fits to you. You are the new mold for your future self. Become that. Do that and you will find a greater place of peace, love and joy in your life that you have only ever dreamed of having.
Being yourself is much more about allowing that stuff to come out. Sometimes on the quest to be professional and to act a specific way one loses oneself. I want to mention that I am not stressing breaking the rules or laws, or even personal belief systems. If anything it’s much more about freeing one from those things that are required and those that are perceived to be required. That you can fit the job and role you want regardless if you “look the part” or not.
I am not exactly the epitome of yoga teacher health or attitude. I am not skinny. I have never been to India. I am definitely not quiet or “zen”. In many ways, I am quite the opposite. My yoga and life are balanced and practiced on the principles of Love, Light and Laughter. I have always believed in the heart of yoga and its essence. The ability to transcend the wordy and the physical to a place that is accessible and allows the practitioner a space and place to explore being themsleves in a comfortable setting. So many places in the world, and in life, have set up these cute, little cubbyhole roles on what they want us to be. How they want us to act. It’s almost as if we’re on auto-pilot – just checking into the roles we’ve been assigned. And maybe some of those are required: the role of parent/child, siblings, employer/employee for instance.
Some of these roles we cannot escape, but there are others. For example, one student told me once “I’m in my 60s, I shouldn’t do that” She did not say, she couldn’t. The belief is that the idea of the pose/posture in that moment was something that others have deemed inappropriate for her to even attempt to pursue.
Then there are others students, like dear, sweet Joanne, who at 70-something years old decided to try a headstand for the first time since she was six years old. She succeeded. She believed in her head and heart to go for it. While upside-down, I asked her to squeeze my fist as I placed it between her calves and my hope was that it would make her stronger in the pose. I’m saying “Squeeze my hand. Squeeze my hand!” And she replies while still upside down still in the pose “With what!?!” And so all control of the class is gone and laughter takes over us all.
And that’s just it too. Maybe I can be myself and go for it, aim for me and don’t look back, even if I don’t know what it will take to get me there. And as for my students, I hope they always know in their heads and in their hearts that they have room enough to be themselves with me too.