I feel that yoga promises much. Inherently. If you listen carefully. Sure, there are sometimes big bang fireworks moments where everything (and I mean everything) suddenly hits you with a crystal clarity that life is epically awesome, that you are awesome, and the cosmos is perfect. I feel fortunate that I have experienced something of this during my practice. Though to be fair these feelings can arise so suddenly and dramatically that they are to some degree unbearable, I can’t hold within me such a fundamental and all-encompassing experience of life as it is. So the paradox is that at this pinnacle of wonderful experience, I crash down soooo heavily. Icarus too near the sun never meant so much to me. I have been burned really good.
But this isn’t my usual experience of yoga and I don’t go looking for it. My highs are much less high. And there are a lot of lows along the way.
I asked my teacher a couple of years ago why I freaked out so much in backbends, how such a simple movement could make my whole world slip sideways within the space of half a breath and leave me feeling a whimpering, terrified wreck. He offered some solid advice on how to manage such moments and how to practise carefully taking proper account of how I was feeling. And he offered some tiny hope for the future. Not a promise, definitely not a promise, but just a suggestion that it might not always be like this for me, that I might one day have a different experience, that it might just possibly be a joyful experience. I treasured that humble offering, because it was so modest in its aspiration. It might not always be this shitty; hang in, practise wisely, and see what happens. And I’m sure he told me to just breathe. Any problem I have, it’s always the same answer. I’m still learning that this might be true… I’m an empiricist; I’m still experimenting! 🙂
I deeply value this attitude to yoga and turn towards such humble teachers when I come across them. I think it speaks of a depth and continuity of practice and of life to be steady enough to offer such a modest aspiration. But it’s not a great marketing message, is it? And I’m struggling with the marketing messages around yoga right now. I keep reading copy that tells me that I will have a great time at x or y class, I will experience deep relaxation, freedom from stress, leave the class with a smile or whatever flavour of positivity fits the bill for that particular workshop or class. I’d love to attend and ask for a refund if I don’t make it, if the class fails to deliver these promises to me. Does it contravene the advertising authority guidelines or does it mean I’m a yoga failure?
I’m no marketing genius and I don’t need to be. My classes are all sewn up and I offer privates only to those who approach me and ask. I don’t spend my week trying to make ends meet by teaching; I do it only because I want to or feel called to. Teaching is a luxury for me. I’m almost perverse in my offerings on social media, refusing to dress up and pose for the camera. Instead I try to offer real observations, they’re not always profound, some are deeply boring, but they are real and they don’t promise anything. They’re more a practice of observation for me, sharing something of how I practise my yoga, rather than an uplifting offering to anyone who chooses to follow me. Because of this ‘policy’ (it’s not so well though out to be dignified with that word really), I was really touched when a student came up to talk one week. She’d come to morning class for the first time against all her natural inclinations simply because I’d posted a picture on my walk to class in the pitch darkness with a comment about how difficult mornings could be for me. This boring, almost negative post had such a positive impact on her as she stopped to ask herself if she too could try a morning class despite feeling uncertain and reluctant, and if she could, perhaps she could also do other difficult things she didn’t think she could do!
Yeah! Never underestimate the power of Instagram. But like Yoga, it works in ways you don’t necessarily expect!