The pursuit of asana vs. the pursuit of wisdom. Does letting go of ego come naturally with age? It is something that can be taught? Or is it something that can only be learned through experience? Yoga is the ultimate metaphor for life, and this topic has been omnipresent in both my personal practice, as well as through my experience as a teacher. I've struggled with writing on this topic for a while now, mainly because I am without answers. There is a fear of sounding self-important, but I don't claim to have the knowledge. These are simply musings and observations as a student of Ashtanga yoga.
Recently I attended an out of town workshop for "advanced practitioners". That is absolutely a very subjective term, but according to their guidelines, I met the prerequisites. Having only been taught Ashtanga for the last several months, being back in this type of environment stirred up all sorts of thoughts of different reasons people practice yoga. This was a workshop where the teacher mainly "performed", and student's watched. When it was time for us to "try", I saw people being put into postures that they clearly didn't have any business being in. It was not safe in my opinion. There were also the types that would wait until everyone had tried, then do the posture, to make sure that everyone saw that they could in fact do these "advanced" asanas. Another place that I saw this behavior, and still do is with bright eyed and strong willed teacher trainees. I will never forget as I sat in class working toward my TT certificate, a lovely young lady stood up and asked the class, "Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a 'level 3' yogi? Everyone is always judging you for being so advanced in your practice." At the time I thought, "wow, that must be hard..." but in retrospect, what is a "level 3" yogi? And if they are that, what are they doing in teacher training in Columbus Ohio? How many levels does yoga have? Is it like a video game?
Fast forward a few years, and I now teach a beginner level vinyasa class that teacher trainees must attend for their certificate. I can give a 10 minute speech on "emptying one's cup", and "always have a beginner mindset", but without fail, there will always be at least one who insists on pushing a posture to THE most advanced place they can take it. Who benefits from this display? Me as the teacher? No, I certainly appreciate humility over boastfulness. The other "true" beginners in the room? No, they are being made to feel not good enough for even a beginner class now because "obviously" they should be able to do these things too. They are serving their ego. Practicing for the performance and admiration... but for who? At the end of the day, is this a display of strength, or is it a display of insecurity? Realistically, as these yogis mature, they will inevitably look back and not be proud of this behavior. I know I am embarrassed at the way I behaved when primarily practicing for my ego. I remember being a couple of years into my practice, I was too cool for slowing down. I was excited to take a class at a well known studio in Florida, and when the teacher walked in I was super disappointed. Not only was she very pregnant, she was disabled on most of her left side. There was NO WAY this class was going to be "hard enough" or teach me anything I didn't already know. As I'm sure is predictable, she was able to cue me into my first every headstand, as well as bringing up my first ever yoga tears. Imagine that.
Fast forward a few years, and I start my Ashtanga practice in the Mysore style. I would like to think I came in with an empty-ish cup. I wanted to learn from the beginning, from the best. But wow. I had never seen real life people doing the postures I saw in the room, and I didn't have any idea who these people were. Could it be possible that the most "advanced" yogis in the city actually didn't advertise and post their most "advanced" postures on the Instagram for everyone to see and admire?! Also, these postures are happening right beside people who are just getting started. AND everyone is content working right where they are. My teacher has kept me "at the beginning" for what feels like an eternity now. He is making sure that even though I may be able to do things with my body that come much later in the series, that I am coming there with the strength, integrity, and wisdom that otherwise may have been lost. Being here has forced me to really think about ego, and what we practice for. Learning to trust the process is part of the process. Being content where you are and with who you are is crucial in learning about yourself in practice, and in life. Building a fire with strength and integrity will produce a much more longer burning flame. Showing up for yourself, rather than the pursuit of the posture.