Can we get out of our own way?

Alex02Do you have a favourite class? Or perhaps you have a favourite teacher, the person you believe you can learn the most from? If you do, it’s unlikely that your favourite teacher will be a fish! But why not? After all, the first Yoga teacher of all was a fish. The tradition is that Lord Shiva was talking about Yoga to his wife, Parvati, as they sat beside the river. A fish swimming in the water was so entranced by what he overheard that he asked Lord Shiva to repeat it all to him. Shiva happily did so and then he instructed this fish, Matsya, to go out and teach others about Yoga and share what he had learned. Lord Shiva didn’t make any judgement based on appearance, age, religion, gender or even species. All he saw was Matsya’s sincere desire to learn Yoga. 

Why is it so difficult for us to get over our prejudices? Why is it so difficult for us to believe that a god would teach a fish the Truth? After all the Vedantic teachings, which influenced early Yoga philosophy, say that all is Brahman, that there is nothing in this universe but God. From this it follows that the nature of all beings is divine, whatever their outer form, and therefore a great Guru or teacher could appear in any shape — or indeed species — provided our eyes are open enough to recognise this, as Shiva could.

Patañjali teaches that “the greatest obstacle to the practice of Yoga is one’s own prejudices based on one’s own preferences” (hānam eṣāṃ kleśavad uktam PYS 4.28). So we might say that one of the aims of Yoga is to open our eyes to our inevitable preferences so that we can observe how this influences our behaviour. With time and practice, when our prejudices arise or our expectations aren’t fulfilled, we might find ourselves less thrown off balance and more able to cope with things not going our way.

Maybe next time in class you notice yourself labelling poses as ones you like or dislike, you can let go of the preferences and simply experience each āsana for what it is. Or if you can’t get your usual favourite spot in the room, you can be equally content to roll your mat out in a different place. You might make a new friend there. And teachers appear in unexpected places.

By Alessandro

Alessandro teaches Jivamukti Vinyasa Yoga on Tuesdays at 18.45, Lotus Flow Advanced Vinyasa on Thursdays at 19.15, Vinyasa Yoga at 07.00 on Fridays, Hot Power at 10.00 on Fridays, and 2 hour Vinyasa on Sundays at 9.30.


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