It's the last day of April and hard as it is to believe, half of my 200-hour yoga teacher training (YTT) weekends are over. It honestly doesn't feel like we're halfway - I still feel like a total newbie. At the same time, the progress I've watched my classmates make is seriously remarkable.
At the beginning of YTT, we all set sankalpas (intentions) for the eight-month training program. I chose this: "To let go of illusions." Today I'm checking in with myself to see how I'm doing with this intention.
Illusions I've (started to) Let Go Of
- Yoga heals everything. My teacher paraphrased Pattabhi Jois to us in our last training weekend: "Yoga heals everything except yoga injuries!" I have long been operating as if the best thing for the body is more, more, MORE yoga. After my lower back injury and a lot of contemplation on self-compassion, I believe firmly in quality over quantity. It's so much wiser and safer to listen to and respect the body, ESPECIALLY when practicing more than you're used to. It's also really important to understand the value of varying fiery, vigorous yoga with yin, restorative practice, and rest.
- I don't like _____asana. I came into training with extremely strong feelings about certain poses - not surprisingly, ones I can't do as "easily" as some of my super flexible colleagues can. What I've learned is that it's my EGO that doesn't like these poses - not me. Instead of whining and pouting my way through the asana that don't come so naturally to me, I'm trying to learn more about them and explore new ways to approach them. For instance, our last training weekend completely changed how I think about paschimottanasana (seated forward bend). No, it doesn't look like the Yoga Journal model when I do it. My knees are bent and my chest is nowhere close to my shins. But I feel the stretch for the first time - because I'm finally starting to understand the dynamics of this relatively basic pose.
- S/he can do that, but I can't. I'm coming to realize that a lot of my "limitations" in practice are really in my head. After such a long time wishing I could unlock the secret to headstand, watching others pop up effortlessly, I was pretty convinced I'd never do it. But with my friends' advice and encouragement, I'm getting damn close. So why should I tell myself not to try the peak pose in a challenging class?!
Unfortunately, these three that I've made a little bit of progress on are way outnumbered by the seemingly infinite web of illusions I'm still ruled by. But since that's the work of lifetimes, here are three I'm aware I need to explore further.
Harder to Shake
- I'll be happy when I _____. This one's pretty big and rules a lot of human behavior. This illusion is kind of scary to tackle, because if I reject this one, then what is the driving force in my decisions? If I'm not going to yoga teacher training because I think it will make me a yoga teacher because I think that would make me happy, then why am I even doing this? If I'm not learning correct form in chaturanga dandasana because I think that will make me happier, why do I keep trying it? This ties in with the Bhagavad Gita teaching that enlightened beings perform actions without attachment or aversion to consequences, or "fruit of actions." (I'll be sure to let you know when I master that one...)
- "Perfection" exists. One of my teachers, Lorien Nemec Butler, refers to herself as "a recovering perfectionist" and I'm definitely the same. Some days, I'm more "recovering" than others. In a learning and assessing environment such as YTT, it's really hard for my ego to get over the fact I am going to make mistakes on quizzes, homework assignment, and practice teaching sessions. I also tend to be hypercritical of my body and of my practice. "I have to be perfect" is a thought that does nothing but hurt me - but if I didn't believe in "perfection," this thought cycle wouldn't hold any power over me anymore.
- I am my thoughts. Oof, this is also a big one. Patanjali wrote that yoga is the cessation of identifying with the churnings of the mind. It's a tough one, because if my thoughts aren't who I am...then who am I? It's something I hope to explore and learn about more through meditation and reading.
Letting go of illusions, as it turns out, can be scary stuff. The mind does a great job convincing us that we can only survive by listening to it. And here's another scary thought: the amount of illusions is infinite.
Maybe "let go of illusions" is an unrealistic (or seemingly unattainable) goal, but I feel good about setting it as my intention. Just rereading that last sentence, I've identified at least three more illusions under which I've been operating. If nothing else, my awareness of illusion has developed. I hope to keep this sankalpa close to my heart as I continue on this path.