I remember practicing once with my teacher, Dharma Mittra, at the Dharma Center in New York, when I first went to check out his classes, about 6 yrs ago. It was a master class but there were all levels of students in the room. Some of the students were very advanced, far more advanced than me. Some of the students were quite new and finding the class really challenging.
Dharma loves to hold Parivrrta Parsvakonasana (twisting extended side angle pose) for a long time. We were holding this pose for a really long time in this class and there was a woman in the class who was having a really hard time maintaining her balance. She kept falling over and I noticed that she was getting really upset and frustrated. She looked like she was on the verge of crying. You could feel that she was becoming very overwhelmed.
My first reaction was to judge her. I'm embarrassed to share that with you. That was my first reaction, though. I remember thinking that she didn't have any business coming to a master class when she was clearly a beginner. I was being such a selfish &$%-hole and I didn't even realize it at the time. Something amazing happened a moment later, that made me feel ashamed and made me re-think what I was doing on my yoga mat.
The regular Dharma students around the woman started to encourage her and offer kind words. They let go of any focus on "their practice", and they focused on her, and gave her their energy and attention. One of the students, in front of her, who had a very advanced asana practice, came out of his pose, walked over to her and helped her to find her balance. I heard him say, "It's okay. This is a hard pose. You're doing great." Several students offered her their smiles and encouraging gestures. It was really beautiful to witness. I was blown away by the community and how everyone reached out to her. It moved me to the verge of tears.
I remember leaving that class and thinking about that moment for a long time. There was so much competition in the classes I was currently taking, so much ego. There was so much competition in my own practice too, so much ego. This pursuit of asana, pursuing these fancy trick poses and advanced transitions…what was the point? Somehow, somewhere along the way, we'd gotten off track, we'd missed the point. What happened in Dharma's master class that day, THAT was yoga.
Dharma always teaches that the number one practice is to be respectful and to be kind to all living beings. I've made many trips to New York now, in the past 6 yrs. I've completed 800hrs of training with Dharma. I've met so many incredible people through this community. Sure, there's some really advanced asana practitioners. Many of the people are way more advanced than I am. Dharma is a really advanced asana practitioner, himself. The thing that I love so much about the Dharma community, though is that Dharma teaches that the asana doesn't really matter. It doesn't mean anything if you aren't moving through the world with kindness and love. The practice is so much more than just being able to do a fancy pose.
I was talking about Dharma the other day with fellow teacher, Derek Beres, after one of my classes. We were talking about Dharma and the space that he creates in his classes. No competition in the room, this really wonderful community of students, supporting each other, growing as a community, practicing as a community.
One of my goals over the past 6 years has been to create this kind of space in my classes and encourage this same idea of community. A group of students coming together, connecting, supporting each other, growing, helping each other along the way.
Last week one of my students was having a challenging time in a pretty tough class. This student sometimes leaves class when it gets too tough for her. I've encouraged her to stay and just come down and rest, to not give up on herself, but this is a habit that's been hard for her to break. Sometimes when the going gets tough she heads for the door. When she got up to leave, in the middle of this class, due to where I was standing in the room, she had to walk right past me, on her way to the door. She tried not to look at me as she went by. I stopped instructing the class. I smiled at her and said, "Come on. You can stay. You can do this. You don't have to leave. Come on." She stopped and the whole class paused and looked at her. There was a long moment where we all waited to see what she was going to do. Then something amazing happened. You could feel the energy shift in the room. Everyone started to encourage her to stay. Some people smiled, letting her know she wasn’t alone. Some people nodded encouragement. People said things like, "You can do it!" and "We’re tired too. It’s okay. We’ll all do it together.” There was so much love in the room. It overwhelmed her. She smiled at me and went back to her mat to stick it out and finish the class.
This was a very special moment for me as a teacher. I watched this really strong group of students, mostly regular students, who've been coming to class for a while now together, practicing yoga together… I watched these students, not just DOING ASANA, not just focusing on their practice, but PRACTICING YOGA, taking it off the mat… and I was so proud of them and so proud to be their teacher.
After the class, I talked to my student, who had given up on herself, and asked her if she felt good that she had stayed for the whole class. She said she had never felt so much love from a group of people before.
Be kind and respectful to others. Love. Open your heart. Help someone who needs help. These are the greatest things that we can teach to our students. Thank you, Dharma, for teaching me about what really matters.
These are the great moments we get to experience as teachers and why I love my job so much. Thank you for letting me hold the space for you and passing on the teaching of my teachers.