For the past month I’ve been diligently working away at curriculum for an advanced yoga teacher training, which has inspired me to read and re-read a dozen books, hundreds of blogs, and listen to TED and podcasts ad nauseam.
Simultaneously, I’ve had some teaching “firsts,” like a private client come to a session with me in tears because she needed to cancel, and then paying me double for the inconvenience.
A rocky conversation about age that I could not skillfully wrangle.
I felt the imposter syndrome creeping in… who am I to be offering advanced training? I’m still having new experiences.
I still get angry.
(I still forget that it isn’t the point).
In my defense, one of my dearest friends and fellow teachers suggested that “…if someone tells me I’m not a teacher, that I can punch them in the face, which is not terribly yogic.”
And that got me thinking.
There is a stark difference between yoga and American hippy culture or “Yippee” (yuppie + hippie) culture, and even with the years and the reading, I still find myself slipping into the melting pot of two things that pair well, but are not the same.
I think I understand some of the reasons.
Many (many) American yoga teacher training programs offer precious little of the deep yogic philosophy, as it would normally take at least 20 years of intensive study to master it, and we’re trying to pack it in to 200 hours. If they do use a classical text, it is often the yoga sutras, which is a little bit like the Four Agreements version of yoga - a nice deck of wisdom nuggets that should suffice if you’re planning to try to live a good life and do more good than harm.
In the sutras, we find the word ahimsa, which can be translated as non-violence. Generally speaking, I believe that being less violent to self and others to be pretty good advice.
There is more to the story.
Some trainings touch on the Bhagavad Gita, which is a story that takes place on a battlefield in which (spoiler) Krishna tells Arjuna, the leader of the underdogs, to get off his sad sack of self-pity “I don’t WANNA be at war” and do his friggin’ duty. Ya wanna be at home reading? Bummer, dude. Life doesn’t always go the way you wanted it to. But here we are, and you’ve gotta suck it up and make it through this.
(I’m paraphrasing - there is a lot more to the story).
I find the Gita to be a better guide for the reality in which I often find myself: life rarely goes as I have planned it, and while I haven’t found myself in a legit battlefield, I can certainly relate to feeling like an underdog faced with a task I’m not thrilled about.
I can relate to sulking.
Finally, we think about the devotional yogis - those who like to chant, pray, do fire ceremonies, and seek to know themselves through the emotional sense of - and confuse them with the Woodstock-ish ecstatic dancing, ayahuasca sampling modern yippies and conveniently forget that there are six emotional states in the practice of Bhakti Yoga.
The sixth, is hatred.
Hatred is the highest form of devotion, as it is all-consuming. It is single-pointed.
It is not pretty.
So while I completely agree with my friend, that punching someone in the face for making me have a feeling is unnecessarily violent, feeling anger is not.
Yogis feel anger, discontent, melancholy, self-pity, and hatred.
The point is not to bypass the feelings or to ignore them.
The point is to build up your toolbox - your resilience, your network - so that you can assess the situation and act skillfully. As teachers, we are here to impart and share teachings to help our students (and ourselves) navigate the messiness of life, not disregard or shame it.
It is perfectly yogic to be angry.
(and do your duty anyway)