DOES YOUR YOGA PRACTICE MAKE YOU A PEACEFUL PERSON?
February 12 2003 was the day I got into headstand. Feeling really great about myself when I walked out of class, I was surprised to find myself yelling at the receptionist for misunderstanding an instruction I had given earlier. A friend lovingly put me straight by saying, "What's the point of doing yoga if you're still a horrible person?" (That's how I heard it in my head.)
I was living at the Integral Yoga Centre in Coimbatore at the time, and loving the life of a yogi. That whole trip was in response to a mid-twenties crisis I was having at the time. I was determined to solve the dramas in my life, so I took to spiritual disciplines very diligently. Because of that discipline, I saw progress. My body started to go into poses I would have thought impossible, I sincerely thought I was getting somewhere. But deep down inside, I was still confused and feeling a little bit of despair. I had no idea where I was going in my life.
My friend's comment hit me like a ton of bricks. What was the point of it all? Why do all this hardcore discipline if I couldn't control myself from snapping at someone because they didn't do what I wanted, when I wanted? Mortified, I went home and cried.
What the hell was the point of it all? What was the point of my life? Why practice yoga? What on earth did headstand give me if I would just yell at someone immediately after yoga. And then all the self-loathing that followed: I'm not good enough, I'm a terrible yogi, I can never show my face at the yoga centre again, etc. etc. etc."
After my little episode, I did some reflection. I had some incredible questions come up with that shameful experience. I learned a great deal, which I would like to share:
1) Watch your ego. It can pop up at anytime
Being a person with an inflexible body, I felt accomplished, like for some reason standing on my head was going to bring me one step closer to enlightenment, which is something that I was determined to reach in this lifetime. Maybe thought I was better than the receptionist because of that accomplishment? Wow... what an ego trip.
2) Eat some humble pie and apologise
Of course being at the ashram, I couldn't exactly turn my back on the practice, and avoid the person, despite my confusion. So I went back and apologised. I told her that I had no idea what came over me and it was wrong of me to yell. She was perfectly fine about it and accepted my apology joyfully, like it was no big deal, and went about her day as usual and perfectly friendly. She had something that I didn't. I wanted what she had.
3) Never stop your practice when the going gets tough
With guidance from my teachers, I soon learned that I was living my life solely for me. My practice was to solve my problems. My personal dramas were the centre of the my universe. My consideration for others was secondary.
4) UNDERSTANDING The point of it all
The point of all spiritual discipline is to increase our awareness and strength to make different choices. Achieving the headstand inflated my ego purposefully, only to be popped open to realisation about the error of my ways. Superiority is very subtle. I naively believed that all my practice made me a better person, when in fact the discipline just opened my eyes to my imperfections.
The only thing that makes us a better person is to stop the need to be the centre of the universe all the time. Consideration for others is equal to consideration for your self. This starts with breaking down barriers and opening our hearts up. Taking a step out of our closed up minds and thinking about another person's life.
Hold your tongue and quiet the mind next time someone cuts you off on the freeway. Change the thought pattern. Maybe the person's need to get from A to B is more urgent than yours. Walk down the street and look at a garbage collector. Ponder what their life might be like for them. Do they have the same basic needs and fundamental desires as you? You bet! Maybe a person who has hurt you doesn't have spiritual discipline to guide them. It does not make you a better person nor does it make you worse.
This comes right back to an ancient teaching: "As you sow, so shall you reap. With whatever measure you give, with eh same measure it shall be given to you."
So I swallowed my pride and started to become aware of others around me. I made a conscious effort to care about someone else's life instead of mine. Instead of feeling confused and isolated, I felt open, connected to others and developed friendships. No matter where my life would take me, at least I knew I could be happy and content now. I enjoyed the opportunity to live in such a sacred place and appreciated the people and culture of South India that now hold a permanent place in my heart.