I was told to have no expectations when going into my training. It’s the guru-ish thing to say. Right? But check this out: the same people who told me this, also told me that wonderful things happened to them during their own training. That good change came into their lives because of the training. That they experienced transcendental and transformational moments during training that left positive marks in them forever. You notice the mixed message here?
So… those are indeed my same expectations! I know I shouldn’t have any. I get it! and while I’m hoping that all these wonderful things will happen to me too, I’m heeding the advice and expecting nothing. I’m at ease with it. I’m excited. I’m not nervous. And I can’t sleep! I know I should be sleeping, but my mind decides to keep me awake with the most useless of thoughts instead. If at least these thoughts served a purpose, I would gladly renounce a few hours of sleep in exchange for valuable ideas or inspiration. But no…it’s all a useless parade of repetitive and mundane thoughts.
I’m annoyed at myself. I’ve laid awake in bed since 3:00a.m. knowing that I have a full first day of teacher training ahead of me. It’s 6:30am and the alarm finally goes off giving way to my usual morning routine of getting the kids ready for school and answering my work emails until I finally close the front door behind me to transform into a yoga teacher in training. No expectations!
I arrive at the studio loaded with 2 backpacks, blankets, towels, meditation cushion, food, snacks, toiletries, plastic bags for sweaty wet clothes, and two yoga outfits for the two daily yoga classes I’ll be taking. I’m met at the front desk by Vikky, my teacher. It’s like going on vacation — she says, as I’m guided to the locker room by one of the reception girls.
Our first class at 9:30a.m. is a Hot Power Flow. My kind of yoga! During class, I hear Vikky say some things that resonate with me. Things like “we are micro creators of the universe”, “our bodies are our most prized possession”, and something that really incites my curiosity: “our spine is the divine highway”. I’m thinking this one may have to do with Kundalini Shakti, a concept I’m not yet familiar with, but it has to do with some kind of esoteric secret about divine energy that resides at the base of our spine. I read it on non other than Liz Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love (Ha!) — The last book I read before this training. Mmm… the Divine Highway. I hope to learn more about it in the days ahead.
After Hot Power Flow we get a 30min. break to shower and get ready for orientation and introductions. Our small group of 4 trainees gathers in the Lavana room, which means Grace or Beauty in Sanskrit. There are no chairs or desks in the room. Instead we lay our yoga mats on the wooden floor and get settled for the long day ahead as we prepare to learn about yoga from the comfort of our mats. Our teacher requests personal introductions from each student and after becoming sufficiently aquatinted with each other, the conversation turns into a more casual interaction, which slowly turns into an uneasy and confrontational dialog, for me at least, as Vikky begins to point out how the ego and attachments of all kinds are the source of our internal conflicts and every day dilemmas. Vikky’s a pro at not letting us get away with excuses, which is not an easy pill to swallow, specially when it comes to the concept of detachment.
To illustrate the simplicity of finding freedom through detachment, let’s consider the South Indian monkey trap metaphor: a container with a narrow opening (wide enough to fit just a monkey’s empty hand) is filled with food. When the monkey grabs the food it becomes trapped, as he cannot pull his clenched fist out of the container’s narrow opening. There’s nothing physical imprisoning the monkey. He could easily free himself if he just let go of the food. But he values the food too much and won’t let go, even as the hunters approach to capture him.
So yes, it’s clear that attachment leads to suffering and detachment leads to freedom. It’s a valid concept, but how practical is it really? if attachment is the same as engagement with external relationships and factors, then I like being engaged when it comes to family, friendships, taking a stand on issues that matter like: political activism, protecting the environment and the under privileged, giving a voice to those who don’t have one, voicing my opinion because I count. Because I matter. And again, I’m told this all comes from my ego. My ego is the one wishing to fix people’s suffering or messed up lives, wishing to save the whales, to save the planet, to take a stand for what I (or my ego) believe in. According to the concept of detachment, I (my ego) needs not concern itself with interfering, saving, influencing, or protecting anything, because anything and everything and everyone will save, influence, and protect itself on its own time. Or not. And that’s also ok.
Yes, engaging with these externalities may bring sorrow, anguish, fear, anger, feelings of impotence and defeat, sadness and all kinds of suffering, but what would have happened if during WWII, the allies detached themselves from the atrocities of nazi occupation in Europe, or if no one would have decided to stand up against slavery and create a movement to abolish it? We owe too much to those who came before us, to those who stood up against injustice, and to those who took action and brought change, to simply detach ourselves from what’s happening in the world.
The concept of finding freedom through detachment is making me uneasy. Everyone else seems fine. It’s just me. I’m not ready to embrace it at face value. Selective detachment may be more my thing, or is that considered cheating? Let’s give this a rest. I’ll shut up now.
At 5:45pm we attend a Raja Yoga class (Raja Yoga is the royal path to meditation). An altogether novel kind of yoga for me. I’m curious to see what’s it all about. The room is dimly lit and hot. The postural sequencing is very slow moving and challenging at times. There isn’t a ton of movement, but rather a ton of holding in each pose, and this seems to be the biggest challenge for me. This morning I survived Power Flow planks, down dogs, lunges, and crow, but I’m in agony at this point — don’t clip your toe nails too short the night before and then hold a toe stand for what seems like an eternity. Finally we make it to Savasana. A wonderfully soothing music plays in the background and I’m drifting. Not sure if I’m falling asleep because I’m so tired or if it’s me sinking into a meditative state because I’m so relaxed. All of a sudden I come back from my drifting state and feel like I’m suffocating. The skin on my arms feels like it’s burning and I need to gasp for air, but then I drift again. This happens one or two more times and then it’s over. It’s 7pm and time to go home for the day.
It’s 9:45pm and I am tired! physically and mentally drained. I left today’s training with lots of mixed feelings. I also have homework: by Friday I need to memorize the posture sequencing for a full one hour Hatha Class and a full one hour and fifteen minutes Power Flow. We’ll be tested for memorization on Friday. I choose to focus on the Hatha Set first, 98 poses in it. I’m trying to memorize, but I’m too tired. I get to #13 and have to call it a night. Can’t keep my eyes open any longer.