Inside Yoga 233 (30/4/2018)
These days sharing our every experience and mood on the internet and social media has become the norm, and the persuasive effect of the crowd means that more and more people are sharing on social media (leaving aside the Facebook fallout). By contrast our yoga practice is meant to be personal and private.
For those who practice at home keeping their practice private is easier, unless they feel moved to share what they are doing, but in a group class this can be a challenge, or is it? The group class has its benefits and challenges.
Human nature is such that we cannot help noticing what others are doing but what can happen is that our mind goes into comparing and contrasting with the result that we become competitive or defeated. Yoga does not encourage this but also understands how this can happen.
If we are in a group class and find ourselves feeling worse because someone else appears more adept at yoga consider this, even though the other person appears more flexible they might not be practising yoga as well as you! Even if you feel you struggle with the exercises if you are focused on the action of the posture, with your body, mind and breathing all concentrating on the posture without distraction then you are doing it correctly, whilst the other person, the focus of your jealousy/ resentment/ admiration might appear to be physically doing it all so well, but their mind might be lost in thought, away with the fairies or planning something, either way, they are not practising yoga properly or perfectly.
So why be concerned by what others are doing especially if it distracts you? The idea behind the practice is to immerse yourself in your own practice, so if you leave a group class not really aware of what others were doing or who was there, but clear about your own experience then it went well.
The group dynamic does have its benefits, because a group class helps to carry others through and inspire others because we cannot help notice what others are doing and also, with everyone doing the same exercises at the same time there is a group focus which helps sharpen and deepen everyone’s own experience. The power of the group has its benefits.
Yet it always comes down to the personal experience. Meditational books and teachers all point out that the potency of practice is diluted if after having a deep and powerful experience through practice that we then feel the need to try to explain what we felt happened. Many of us will recall that horrible feeling after trying to explain a powerful experience which felt so important, and it doesn’t have to be yoga related, to a friend or family member only to regret trying and feeling deflated and empty.
I remember being told during meditational retreats: while sitting in a group it is so easier to think the other participants (or even everyone) are doing it a better than me. It can become the focus of our session, obsessional even, and most people will do this at some point. Thinking that others are doing something better or different can be so harmful. So the advice often given is this, if we all had visible speech bubbles above our heads for every thought we would see how many people in the same room are having the same type of thoughts! Often critical thoughts about not being any good at this practice etc, or looking at others and thinking they are so much better! So we are all the same and experiencing the same struggles with the practice.
A teacher called Ram Dass, who attracted large audiences, said that if everyone attending could hear every thought he has, people would stop turning up to listen to him! The point is that we all get unwanted thoughts, but it is how we respond to them that is important. We aim to disarm them at the very start before they badly affect our mind and body, and possibly others by using them against others. Our practice trains us to see these thoughts and emotions for what they are, merely passing phenomena. We train ourselves to drop them and to focus on more positive thoughts. Put simply: If we are going to have a thought why have a negative thought?
Back to my point about our modern world, not everything needs to be shared, not least what we feel and experience during practice.
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