In my short life, there have been a handful of people that managed to make a difference and helped me grow. They all had/have two things in common: 1. They told me I need to be stronger. 2. They were so “mean”.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I was so used to receive criticism and always look for perfection that later on it became impossible to take feedback objectively. Every feedback sounded awful and I could not see anything else than criticism. I was crying every time someone would tell me something that did not please my ego.
For many years, I did not understand what these mean people meant by telling me I need to get stronger. How much stronger I need to be?
Mysore, India, April 2016 – that was the moment when I truly understood the meaning of the word “Strong”. And the meaning of the word “Ego” which stays in the way of “strong”. It was painful, such a painful process to finally being able to understand what they all meant in the past.
I cried in that little Mysore room so many times and not being aware that I was in fact getting stronger while my ego was getting weaker between those tears that were falling on my cheeks. I was crying my ego away and making place for something new to start. There is one particular “mean” person that made my life so horrible and created the perfect situation for my ego to be broken to pieces. I could have chosen to leave and keep cuddling my ego, but I chose to stay and search for the inner strength to accept my mistakes, to accept I am not perfect and that is completely okey. In the “strictness” and “meanness” of the situation, I learned how to see myself and continue to put the work without creating expectations. I started to make place for the real yoga to begin.
But what does it mean to be strict? I’ve been asking myself few times whether or not I am also “too strict” while teaching. Maybe I am. Or maybe I am just trying to teach yoga closer to its roots…I don’t know. But if I am, I am not strict with the person in front of me. I am strict with the ego who always wants to be told how amazing it is. In the West we are cuddled as not to have our feelings broken – but life is harsh, a wild goat cub will be pushed on high cliffs in order to get strong or left behind.
Modern yoga is very different from what it used to be. Traditional yoga doesn’t cuddle your ego, but instead pushes you on the edge of the cliff where you have the option to grow or quit.
In the western world, we have all sorts of names for yoga, we play all sorts of music when we practice it. For the modern mind, the silence is disturbing. But it is in the silence and the awareness of your breath that you will find The Yoga. Here we want poses. Many poses. Fancy poses. There is little emphasis on the true essence of the yoga practice and a lot of emphasis on selling a fake spirituality, the perfect clothes, the perfect customer service. There is judgement ( sadly even on the yoga mat) and there is Ego. Like in anything, there will be genuine intention at first and there will be people taking advantage of it.
I, as a practitioner and teacher don’t like to cuddle the Ego (anymore). But instead focus on making my students grow stronger. And I don’t mean muscle growth, even though that is always a result of a committed attitude to do your practice regularly, but I mean mind growth.
In order to grow, one must be willing to let go of the Ego, trust and surrender. It’s not an easy thing to do and it might take years before we understand the complexity of such easy said words. The best teacher in this case, will be your commitment to get on your mat with an open heart and not to prove yourself how amazing you are. Get on your mat without expectations and hunger for new fancy postures! Get on your mat with a genuine intention to see your true self!
Most of the people, when we first start practicing, we think mostly about the body. And we might enjoy it for some time (See gym yoga, fitness yoga like approach, fully speed and power yoga like classes). But there comes a moment in our life when we either make progress and start seeing what yoga beyond bending is about or we quit, find excuses that we don’t have time and eventually find a new hobby.
I will tell you why I like to be strict when teaching.
First of all, as previously said, the Ego will always like being cuddled and encouraged to stay in the comfort zone. Everyone’s Ego wants to do that. But there is no growth happening that way and there is no YOGA in to that.
Second of all, it must be an influence of the previously done teacher courses in India. If you practice yoga in India, you will understand what I’m talking about.
A real yoga teacher might be a person you love and hate in the same time, but it will be a person that will guide you to find your inner strength and bring you to that edge where growth happens. A yoga teacher is not your best friend. But it’s someone that always has his/her arms wide open to hug you and an open heart when receiving you to the class. A yoga teacher is smiling in silence every time he/she sees you moving forward in your practice. A yoga teacher is not happy when you are hungry to get the next advanced asana you are not yet ready for, but he/she is super happy when you start to understand the complexity of the”simple” things. He/she is happy when you take the lesson of that pose and understand more about yourself. A yoga teacher has no intention to punish you by holding the plank for 20 breaths, but he/she is happy when you are able to see you are stronger that you actually thought.
Yoga is kind and strict in the same time. If you look at the postures, each of them will stimulate something in our human mind, our emotions and deepest fears. Regular practice makes us see how we really are and get rid of the fears. A yoga practice should bring you to that scary place that you are avoiding. How can you grow stronger if the fear is always controlling what you do? The yoga happens deep inside your being and what we see on the outside is a mirror on what happens on the inside. As Pattabhi Jois used to say “Yoga is an internal practice. The rest is just circus.”
Unfortunately, we live in a time where many people have access to yoga, but few practice and have access to real yoga. Yoga is everywhere, but it’s harder to find the genuine yoga. To get to the genuine yoga, you must be willing to switch off the judgmental mind and get on your mat without expectations what’s so ever. Yoga is in each and everyone, but in order to see it we must be willing to put the work and leave the Ego at the door before we enter the shala.
Personally, the more I practice traditional yoga, the less I like modern yoga. There was a time when the only thing I would practice were postures that felt good in my body. In my opinion and from my experience, modern yoga feels nice, but there is very little personal growth happening while trying to break the lock of the postures you are not yet ready for ( see some Vinyasa Flow classes with fancy advanced postures). Many of the modern yoga classes feed the Ego to grow stronger while traditional yoga breaks the ego in to pieces. Traditional yoga is painful at first and very sweet later on. In the end, yoga is about dissolving the ego and seeing your true self. I wonder how many of us are really practicing that…
This practice just gets better and better with time.
So yes, I think I will continue to be strict (in case I really am). And be myself. And bring people on the edge of their limits where growth happens. This is what I practice and this is what I teach. I cannot be another person and have no interest into pleasing the Ego, but rather see my students learn and grow.
© Unfold Your Mat 2016
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