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An elfin-like girl perches on a chair, slicing her bow expertly across the strings as she winks and smiles at the dreadlocked guitarist. He’s the kind of man I can’t imagine ever not being topless. The singer sways with stoned, sparkling eyes, and the crowd dances wildly to the klezmer mix.
I sit to the side, entranced by the joyous scene, tapping my feet out of synch with the music. Mind patterns from the past creep in – why can’t I play an instrument? I wish I had that talent. I wish I were gorgeous. I wish I were cool. Why can’t I let go? I want to be confident and content like them – the types of thoughts that send one into a black hole of tangled envy and self-depreciation with the repeated mantra ‘not good enough, not good enough’.
Not long ago I’d have run with those thoughts, perhaps spinning them with imagined stories of privileged lives for the objects of my envy – anything to stroke the ego’s self-inflicted bites.
Comparison is the thief of joy
Those bites came hard when I began my yoga teacher training. ‘I’m so inflexible’, ‘Everyone else is better’, ‘I don’t have the body for this’, ‘I’ll never be able to teach’, ‘I should have started this years ago – it’s too late now’. My frustrations roared on the mat as I raged at my incompliant body.
Off the mat, we learned about yogic philosophy – the eight limbs that make up the path of the yoga. Two of these – the yamas and niyamas – read like an ethical code.
A few stood out to me including Aparigraha (non-coveting), Santosha (contentment) and Ishvara Pranadhana (devotion). The first two were what I struggled with as I rued my body and wished for others. The final was something I lacked.
Brought up as a Catholic, the word devotion has uncomfortable associations with a guilt-inducing, wrathful God I don’t recognize. Not a religion unto itself, in yoga, that devotion is for whatever God means to you – that which is bigger than us and provides our life source – be that a named deity or the cosmos itself. It’s a reminder to stop always being lost in the small “I” and remember gratitude for our existence.
I started to put these tools into practice on the mat – refraining from comparing my body with others and being grateful and content with what I have. Instead of raging at my body, I practiced compassion for it.
Locks and keys for peacefulness
Later we read through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – the book where the foundations of yoga come from. One of the sutras in particular struck a chord:
“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity towards vice, the mind retains its undisturbed calmness.”
In Sri Swami Satchidananda’s interpretation of the sutras, he describes these four responses as keys for the locks that precede them. If we use the right key with the right lock, we’ll feel much more peaceful. It’s such simple advice, but of course not always easy to follow. How many times have I seen or heard of someone else’s success or happiness and felt a twinge of jealousy or bitterness? They are ugly emotions that don’t serve anyone, but still they rise. In yoga, we’re told that through practice, we can rid ourselves of them.
So I’m practicing – on and off the mat – this cultivation of desirable responses – compassion, friendliness, delight, equanimity, contentment, non-coveting and devotion. Perhaps it sounds forced, and perhaps at the beginning it is as one breaks down the habits of a lifetime, but little by little I can see changes. For one, I’m starting to teach yoga classes next week. Over the month, my teachers helped grow my confidence and made me see that my own body wasn’t a limitation. I can still be a good teacher – I just need to practice and have confidence. I’m nervous but wonderfully excited about the challenge.
And, as I sit watching a gorgeous band of peaceful, joyous people, instead of running with jealousy and self-doubt, I delight in their joy and give thanks to the universe for letting me share it.
I completed my yoga course with Drishti Yoga who offer international yoga teacher training around the world.