I am a terrible yogi. I am wonderfully capable of pretending to be a yogi, but if you peaked into the cacophony of my exploding thoughts, you’d run for cover. On the outside the appearance of serenity itself; on the inside all hell breaks loose. These past few weeks my unyogic-ness reached new heights.
One of my clients is a 40 year-old, competitive, fit-as-a-fiddle, high-flyer, type-A guy. Quite early on I learnt he doesn’t respond well to cues such as ‘nurture your inner child’ and ‘listen to your body’. Instead he wants to know how to advance the pose further and whether the back foot is at 45 degrees or 50 degrees.
His request is for me to challenge and exhaust him physically, until he is ready to pass out and therefore meditate. I offer an intensive sequence, which even just cuing is exhausting.
‘You know, the point of yoga is to stop the mind chatter and allow what is beneath to reveal itself’. I tell him.
‘Yeah, yeah. But first I gotta get my ass whooped, then we can get to the mind bit’.
It seems to work for him. Once we achieve ass whooping status, he will sit in a crossed leg position and meditate with such stillness, you’d think he was a Buddhist monk.
The God of forward folds revealed
Sometimes he is joined by his 20 year-old, competitive, fit-as-a-fiddle, high-flyer, type-A son. Together, a silent yoga battle unfolds. If the father reaches his shins in a forward fold, the son sees this, raises him, and reach the ankles. The father sees this, raises it again, grabs his toes and so it goes on.
None of my not-so-subtle cues such as ‘Close the eyes. Let go of all competitiveness’ make any difference. The stakes are high in every pose. But what I had failed to realise as I thrust myself forward, wrapping my hands around my feet and winning their game hands down, was that I was equally guilty of this behaviour… Triumphant as both fit-as-a-fiddle, high-flyers looked up and saw that I am indeed god of the forward folds. HA! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
Be more Yogic
Hobbling home, as my hamstrings refused to ping back to their original position, I mulled things over. This wasn’t very yogic. What about Ahimsa (non- harming)? Satya (truthfulness)? Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)? All these concepts that I had studied and thought were a part of my life as a yogi.
If I was honest, I was failing at most of the Yamas (ethical rules) and Niyamas (code of conduct) as described in the yoga texts. To fail at the first 2 limbs of yoga out of 8, does not bode well.
I made a concerted effort to be more Yogic. I doubled down in meditation and paid close attention to my thoughts. Every time I told myself I was an idiot, I made myself do a push up. Every time I passed judgement, I did a squat. Every time I got the green-eyed monster, I did a lunge.
I have never been so fit in my life.
After all these years of doing yoga, I hoped I might be a little immune to all these petty thoughts. Instead, it turns out that I am a mere mortal after all, despite being able to do Pincha Mayurasana pose, a forearm balance.
Just to bring me completely back to earth, I farted in class. Teaching a class jam packed with students, I moved and out it popped. Not ‘a bit of wind’, or ‘a smidgen of gas’, but a ‘big, huge fat fart’. This sound was quickly followed by a second noise from my other end – my involuntary squeal. Or perhaps shriek. Just to punctuate what had just happened, and leave no doubt to anyone in the room.
Passing wind is a natural process and as a teacher I have heard many thunderous reverberations. In my early teaching days, I tried to make light of it.
‘Imagine if we’d been doing wind-relieving pose?’ I quipped.
I then tried to be sympathetic. ‘Better out than in’ or ‘Oops-a-daisy’.
But when I never saw those students again, I thought pretending as though nothing happened is the best course of action. And let’s be honest, nothing did really happen. Unless it happens to me, then that’s completely different.
I sat on my mat beetroot red, flames coming out of my cheeks. Thankfully it was the end of the class and I just had to guide the final meditation.
‘Close your eyes. Let go of the thoughts. If a thought comes back to mind, let it fly… let it out…. let rip… unleash it.’
I wondered if it was obvious I was replaying the incident in slow motion in my head.
As the students left, they smiled and thanked me for the class. I knew that beneath their beaming, happy exteriors lurked repugnance, mockery and disappointment. They had unmasked me as a fraud and a terrible yoga teacher.
Now, this leap from embarrassment to shame to mortification to self-abnegation makes perfect sense in your own brain, but is utter nonsense when it is someone else’s thoughts.
The event had now been blown out of all proportions. How is it possible that something so ridiculous could create such turmoil? What type of a yogi was I if I couldn’t control my basic bodily functions, let alone my mind spiralling out of control?
Once safely ensconced in my car, I phoned my other half, my mother, my best friend and a work colleague. There was something oddly necessary in the need to share this event with 4 different people in the space of 10 minutes. My other half said he wasn’t surprised, I am ‘quite poppy’ apparently. My best friend laughed and shared her embarrassing stories. The work colleague was silent, unsure what was the point of the phone call. And my mother reminded me she had brought me up better than that.
What I realised was that although doing yoga does give you super human powers, it can make you feel amazing, it does also shine a light on the nonsense that we let our minds. Sometimes all it takes is a pulled hamstring and a fart to bring us back to earth.