Reversing Conditioning

This is the second winter that keeps me away from driving to the shala sometimes 3 out of the six practice days. It is actually a combo of insomnia and possible bad driving conditions for the toy/tuna can car I drive.  A beneficial side effect of these circumstances is that I have fortified a solo home practice that has revealed many insights. The most important one for me has been the slow dissolving of the preoccupation of being observed. Lets not kid ourselves, we all were told since we were toddlers (specially if you were a girl toddler) how cute/adorable/sweet/funny/silly/yummy we looked. Then in school it was the teacher pointing out look at so and so sitting up straight and paying attention/see how she started her work right away? and we start craving parental, teacher, peer, and total stranger attention in order to be valued. Now all of a sudden you show up at yoga class and are told never mind how you look, or if you are doing it right, just go inward. How long do you think it will take to unravel all of the prior instructions to submit your performance to constant evaluation hoping for approval or at least a passing grade allowing you to move along?? My first 4 years of practice were mortifying in the sense of having to battle thoughts of I hope my teacher realizes I am trying, I wonder if she thinks I’m not trying,  maybe I really am not trying as hard as I should. That chain was sometimes interrupted with I feel like I don’t belong here but I will not cower, I wonder if I look ridiculous, I hope this stupid tank top does not ride up, and that chain gets interrupted by look a new student, I hope she sees that if I can handle this then anyone can really do ashtanga, I wonder if teacher saw that I could bind/head touched floor, oh no she is too close and I’m really sweating today. By having to cobble up the discipline of practicing alone some of the time I was able to shush a lot of that chatter and spend some time inside with no other visitors. Many times I think that we squander effort and stamina by leaking energy into the preoccupation with being gazed at. It is a misdirection of energy. This is not to say that yoga instagramers/youtubers/and periscopers are spilling their energy or prana, in fact these people might be the very ones who can forget about being observed while they are performing an asana and really go inside themselves. What I do know is that I am not that fortunate.  Of course I need my teacher to guide and instruct me, what I don’t need is wanting her approval and acceptance in order to appreciate my practice.

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5 thoughts on “Reversing Conditioning

  1. Welcome to my world. I have received such enormous benefit from practicing alone. I’m into my second year as a solo and the freedom from being observed (or adjusted or talked to) has become precious. I’ve learned more about myself and my body than I did in all the prior years. No longer practicing for a teacher, I only practice for me. I tune in and listen. Do I miss the energy of others? Sometimes. Do I practice as ‘hard’ as I do when I’m in a shala? No and my hamstrings/elbow/shoulder thank me 🙂

    {Sidenote: everyone always imagines that The Husband and I practice together. We don’t. He has his room and I have mine. Maybe it’s to avoid the whole observation thing, all I know is we both prefer to be on our own.}

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    • I think I have mentioned before that I am a recovering agoraphobic (mild) who owes the practice for the push to expand my horizons and spend time in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. I am always aware and vigilant of going back into my safe and very comfortable cocoon. As you know, I get anxious about driving long distances alone or to unfamiliar places, and sometimes just getting in the car and driving to the shala, squeezing a hand or saying three things on the way in or out, sets the tone for me being able to adult during the rest of the day doing the other things and interactions I am supposed to handle. I was able to have this realization about self practice while my teacher was away in India and I felt the same ease I felt in my pj bottoms and sports bra home practice while in the Mysore room because I did not feel that responsibility/ need to prove anything to her, my neighbor in the next mat and most importantly to myself. >

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  2. What a great piece! I totally relate to the desire to please, look ok, do what is expected and then the peace on inner quiet of one’s solo practice…your are so right, it’s good to be able to carry that peace to the shala and turn off the voice. Thank you for sharing!

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  3. What a great piece! I totally relate to the desire to please, look ‘good’, do what is expected and then that peace and inner quiet of one’s solo practice…your are so right, it’s good to be able to carry that peace to the shala and turn off the voice. Thank you for sharing!

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    • Thank you so much for reading Carol. It just so happened that today my teacher was talking about how practice becomes possible anywhere ( like in India where the coconut man is loudly selling right by the window, and the rickshaws keep honking like it’s inside the room). Best not to rush the process. My FB feed had Miles Davis quote recently: “..it sure takes a long time to sound like yourself”.

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