I’m on a seven-day yoga streak. With the exception of my year-long self-portrait project, most of my streaks are unintentional. I rarely undertake a streak for its own sake. I just look up from whatever I’m doing and realize I am several days into a streak without trying. This week I can’t seem to break the yoga habit. Not that I’d want to break it.
I like to alternate yoga days with running days in an every-other pattern but not this week. This week I’m craving yoga every morning. Doing my best to stay in alignment with the Ayurveda clock, the runs (not the diarrhea; the running) gets bumped to early evening before dinner. According to the sages this is the second-best time for strenuous exercise.
A secondary component to the streak is that I’ve been craving classes, as opposed to my regular personal practice. The teacher wants to be a student again. Oh, but the ego of the teacher; it’s a never-ending source of yoga lessons that have nothing to do with poses. I like to call it The Yoga That Isn’t a Pose. My ego leads me to the best lessons from the best teachers. My ego is a master facilitator when it comes to learning.
When I was in yoga school the instructors were constantly preaching that we should resist the ego, detach from the ego, release the ego—basically pretend it doesn’t exist and try to root our motivations elsewhere. I’m not a believer in that philosophy. Never was (which is probably why I was branded arrogant, smug, and lacking in humility). The ego is part of the mind, like a finger is part of the hand. Working against my ego makes about as much sense as immobilizing one of my fingers and expecting my hand to function as is it was intended.
The ego is intended to be a functional part of the mind. That’s by design, folks. The ego is incontestable. We can’t remove it like an appendix or a wisdom tooth. If the brain is functioning normally, the ego is working too. All that yogi-babble about crushing the ego or shattering the ego? Hogwash. And I used to be guilty of it too. Not anymore.
I love my ego. My ego is fabulous. Nothing cuts through the crap faster or more efficiently than my ego. We get straight down to business, me and that ego. Therefore, my yoga is most profound when I work with my ego. Every time I try to lie to myself that ego exposes me. Every time I try to rationalize something of questionable judgment my ego brings in a reality check. I bristle and fuss and flirt and provoke but via the ego I find out more truth. She keeps it more real than anyone else. My ego never fails me.
It makes no sense to shun something so dependable. I embrace her like a friend. She’s part of me. So of course I take my ego to the mat. Hear me, ego bashers, of course I do. While I’m moving through the asana my ego is teaching me the Yoga That Isn’t a Pose.
Take Sunday, the start of the streak. I did a 90-minute class online with Marc Holzman. If I could find a longer class taught by Marc I would take it and then take it again. I cannot get enough of him. If I had a bucket list, a real-life class with Marc Holzman would be on that list. He’s magic. He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s soulful. He’s beautiful. He’s gorgeously gay. He writes. He’s everything.
Marc was the first person I ever observed to say out loud some things I only dared think. He knows things—the kind of things people believe but don’t dare say out loud. He’s got the balls to say those things on the internet. So I’m gaga over him. Smitten. Gone. He does no wrong.
Enter the ego—my lovely loving ego. She must love me more than I love Marc Holzman because she pointed that out to me—the do no wrong part. A yoga teacher who does no wrong? Really? That’s a thing? Of course it isn’t.
Marc is perfect. The ego points out to me that this is what I imply when I objectify him. Perfection, oh glob. That’s not a fair standard to which I can or should hold any yoga teacher (or any person). She pointed out that I will instantly forgive Marc Holzman for things I hold against other yoga teachers because I want him to be perfect.
This is where the ego is brilliant—it’s the I want him to be perfect part that exposes me. Despite my long-held manifesto that perfection is frightening and the pursuit of perfection is dangerous and damaging, on some secret level I must want that perfection to exist in the world. I make concessions to perpetuate the image of that perfection, such as overlooking things in Marc’s class that would normally irritate me.
It’s a recipe for student-teacher disaster in real life. It’s just plain irrational and irresponsible in any realm of life. If someone continues to be perfect we never have to be anything but gaga. We never have to be responsible and the other person never has to be accountable. We can pretend. We can live in a dreamy state of hero-worship. As long as Marc shines in his golden perfection I am absolved of reckoning with reality. And reality is that he’s as fallible and frail as all human beings (all yoga teachers) and my infatuation is based on fantasy. It’s not real. It’s not right. It’s certainly not fair to Marc (or anyone).
Thank you, blessed ego. This lesson is also part of yoga. This is part of the practice. The activity of my ego is critical to the practice.
On Monday I did a 60-minute class online with someone else. The class title was Yoga for Athletes so I naturally assumed it was a class for adults. In fairness, it was an adult class but if I closed my eyes I would have believed I was listening to a children’s class. I took issue with the teacher’s sing-song diction. It was the kind of voice you’d imagine one would use to teach kindergarten. The kind of voice people use for baby talk. Coochie coochie coo. Syrupy sweet with the end of every single sentence ending on a songbird up note. Okay boys and girls, let’s get our sillies out and breathe in…
Enter the ego. Yes, her again. My rock star ego pulled some truth out of the archives. My teaching partner used to bust me out on this one all the time—that I use different voices to speak to different people. She tells me I have a Teaching Voice, an Office Voice, a Phone Voice, my normal voice, and apparently some obnoxiously candy-filled confection voice I use to speak to The Chef in public. I was dumbfounded the first time she told me this. I use different voices? I really do? All the time? The ego whispers, perhaps this teacher getting on your last nerve doesn’t know she’s using her Video Voice.
Also, yoga teachers get nervous enough when teaching a public class but a class being filmed for the internet? Well hell, whose voice wouldn’t change? Stress affects the nervous system. Hands shake. Bellies clench. Brows sweat. Perhaps her voice rises. Or perhaps not. Perhaps that’s her regular voice and I need to get over it. Perhaps I’m a schmuck for getting annoyed. Perhaps I’ve done plenty of things while teaching that annoy people. Things I might not be able to help.
This teacher is doing good work that serves the world. She’s fostering wellness in people generally obsessed with fitness and competition (athletes). I understood her cues. I followed her demonstrations. I got through the class with nary a mishap. The class was free and I am privileged to have access to it. So what if her voice was sing-song?
You see what I mean? This is yoga too. The Yoga That Isn’t a Pose.
You’d think by Tuesday my ego would have straightened me out. Nope. I did 60 minutes online with a giggly, playful, male teacher who missed his calling as a comic Disney character. The class was Happy Shoulders & Hips. For me it was Grouchy Attitude & Lips. He wouldn’t stop laughing. He wouldn’t stop joking. He wouldn’t stop acting like an overstimulated 10 year old and just teach, globdammit. I rolled my eyes. I sighed. I complained aloud at the video. Why was this jerkoff having so much fun? I didn’t come here to play around!
Madame Ego asks me, do you hear yourself? Chastising someone for making yoga fun? Didn’t you used to cut up and joke and disrupt aplenty? Didn’t you think it was harmless?
Yes. Yes I did. As a student and as a teacher. I played Court Jester twice a week in Yoga Mama’s classes before I became a teacher. I was class clown. Even worse, I was the class clown not appropriate for younger audiences. After I became a teacher, well, did I ever tell you about the time I told my class to place their right hands on their pubic bones? By accident. Yeah. I laughed like a hyena over that one. I meant pelvic bone at the top of the hip socket. I said pubic bone instead. On and on I cackled. I’m sure I’m the only one who thought it was hysterically funny.
Yoga that isn’t a pose; sometimes I can really be a turd.
On Wednesday I took another 60 minutes of a class called Steadiness and Ease where we experienced everything other than steadiness and ease. It was endless rounds of what I call the Same Old Vinyasa (SOV). You know this ubiquitous vinyasa sequence crammed in between every other pose? Down Dog, Plank, Chaturanga, Up Dog, Down Dog, on repeat. It’s the warm up. It’s embedded in the salutations. Move on to the meaty part of the class and every fifteen seconds the teacher says, “Now step back and flow through the vinyasa.”
Step out of a long hold or a complicated progression and instead of a recovery the teacher demands another round of SOV. No moments to absorb the teaching; quickly, quickly, step back and flow. I call it busy work or filler yoga. It pisses me off because it wastes valuable learning time. I swear some teachers default to it just to make sure the class is sweating enough to call it an “advanced” class. From the SOV perspective, difficulty is defined by the student’s stamina rather than the technicality of the poses or the depth of the philosophy. Filling up class time with this is the yoga equivalent of reciting the multiplication tables instead of learning algebra. Students get nothing but a hard workout.
You know it’s coming, right? The ego. Yup. The ego sidles up to me and reminds me that I wrote about today’s mainstream yoga students wanting a hard workout exactly like this one less than a week ago. A blog post called In the Biblical Sense. I covered this. I wrote about how teachers understand this expectation and offer what the clientele demands in order to stay in business. I know this well enough to blab on at length in blog posts but then I have the gall to act surprised when I encounter it on the mat? Even Marc uses SOV. All of the most popular teachers do. And they are popular because they do.
Ego says Turd = Me. If I don’t like it I need to collect my mat and get back to my personal practice.
Thursday dawned. I cued up 60 minutes with Alex van Frank and entered a happier place. I adore Alex’s classes. She and I have twin teaching souls, I swear. Every time I take one of Alex’s classes I luxuriate in them because her teaching style and method is so much like mine. Her transitions and pace and sequencing jive with me so well that I catch myself calling it “the way yoga should be.” I want to scream YES! YES! YES! Like Meg Ryan faking it in When Harry Met Sally. (Click the link if you’re too young to understand that reference.)
As a bonus Alex doesn’t muddy up her classes with SOV. I applaud her for this. I send her blessings for this. I make offerings to the yoga gods that Alex teaches yoga without SOV. She will make you sweat plenty but not with SOV. Extra gold stars. My Seal of Approval. In every one of Alex’s classes I learn something new. I get validated. I get smug. I get arrogant. I lack humility. I heap praises upon Alex because she’s got it figured out, got it going on, and gotten it so, so right.
Sigh. Then the ego cometh. Yes, ego. I hear you. There is no right. There is no “way it should be.” She’s not better than anyone else. I’m not better than anyone else. We do it differently than the herd but the herd is not wrong. Yoga has no formula. Yoga has no standard. Deciding that she’s enlightened and superior is decidedly un-yogic; completely contrary to yoga philosophy.
What’s more, no one appointed me the yoga auditor. I’d freak out if anyone got appointed yoga auditor. That’s ludicrous. I blew a gasket when the local authorities threatened to regulate yoga in my state yet here I am trying to regulate it globally with Shoulds and Musts and criticism.
This reconciliation is part of being a yogi too. My rockstar ego is the goddess of checks and balances.
Finally, Friday, I got on the mat for 50 minutes of Deep Shoulder and Neck work. I did the poses. I did the breathwork. I used all my props and let the teacher do the teaching. More importantly, for 50 minutes I worked on the Yoga That Isn’t a Pose. No right. No wrong. No perfect. No better. No worse. No too much. No not enough. I held hands with my ego. We were yoga partners right up to the final Namaste. Back into alignment.
It’s now Saturday. Day Seven of the Streak. I’m feeling like some Tara Stiles today. She’s the dancer yogi who doesn’t use Sanskrit. She does use SOV. I will modify. I will send her love and light. I will open to the possibility that she might teach me poses today or she might teach me something more. I will gather my props and make a ponytail and clip in the black flower. Then I’ll whistle for my ego.
Breath by breath we practice all the yoga because that’s exactly the point—it’s all yoga. In between the poses, in between the SOV, in between the complaining, in between the rib-pokes from my ego, are the lessons within the lessons.
The teacher is the student. The student is the writer. The writer is the conduit.
— Rostra Gecko
(you can figure that one out, right?)