When I think about why I teach yoga, it’s not to teach people to perfect their handstands. It’s not to learn how to lengthen the spine in trikonasana. I find in the “real” world – whatever that means – nobody cares how good your vashistasana…or any pose, for that matter…is. It’s not to say that I don’t teach alignment…I do – perhaps more than most…because I want my students to be safe. But I recognize the pose as secondary.
Because I believe what matters is how we show up in the world. What happens on my mat is preparation for the events that play out with less certainty on my life mat.
Last week I was returning to the studio after a couple in-home private sessions. The Kundalini mantras were playing. When I put down the sugar, I turned up the Kundalini mantras. Even in the chanting, the hamster wheels were turning because I’m awaiting my taxes and in the midst of a couple changes – I’m just not sure what they are quite yet. And, let me just be the first to admit that I’ll never win an award for driver of the year. I had three car accidents last year. Only one was my fault. But, still, I’ve had some collisions.
Suddenly, a man in a Subaru came up next to me and rolled down his window to curse me out. He had a “Feel the Bern” bumpersticker. I’d just had a conversation with Arthur, my accountant and most dedicated yoga student, about politics – over restorative yoga…which I don’t recommend.
I don’t know what I did, if anything, to provoke this man. I didn’t roll my window down to reason with him. I did, however, feel triggered with adrenaline – what I logically know as fight or flight…or (the lesser known) freeze. He swerved in front of me and hit the brakes hard. I went around him and turned the corner early to return to the studio on a back road. He followed and when we met again, he wielded his fist wildly. And, finally, he turned the corner in haste.
Had this same experience happened several years ago instead of last week, here’s how the story would have likely ended: I’d have pulled my car over and told him what a piece of shit he was … (Fight) … All gender and size differences aside, I would have come out of my car swinging and might not have stopped until he was humiliated or I was bloodied – whichever came first. And I would’ve gotten shitfaced afterward with my drug of choice in a futile attempt expel the experience… (Flight)…Then I’d have called everyone I know and built a story around how fucked up humanity was and is and always will be… (Freeze) … And I’d have carried the energy and resentment acquired from that experience around for years to come.
Instead, I sat in the studio parking lot to eat my late lunch. Snatam Kaur kept singing. I said a prayer for the man and for myself. I put my feet on the earth and discharged the energy of the experience from my cell tissue. The moment passed as quickly as it came. Life went on.
Why would I pray for him? I can hear my reluctant-to-soften-quick-to-anger students ask me. Because I don’t ever know what someone else is battling. And because I know what it’s like to harbor the sort of hatred and anger he exhibited toward me, how much pain and fear he lives in. And because I believe the light I find in others is a reflection of the light that’s found within. And so, for better or worse, the converse is true too. In others’ shadow behaviors, I see my own. It famous Kundalini teacher, Yoga Bhajan, who said, “Recognize that the other person is you.”
There is much in this world over which I’m powerless to change. Our political candidates for starters. However, I’m committed not to add to the aggression on the planet. This is what a regular meditation practice has done for me. This is the yoga, which is far more important than any asana.