It was a chilly Tuesday morning, and I was at the studio early getting things ready for the 7am class. The phone rings and the conversation goes like this:
S: “Hi Mona, it’s me. I’m running a little behind this morning and I’m wondering if you could put a mat down for me?”
MW: “Sure It’s not that busy yet tho. I think you’ll be fine to just come in and setup once you get here. It’s rare that we need to turn people away from the 7am classes.”
S: “Yes, but I really want my spot by the door. Will you go put a mat down for me before someone else takes my spot?”
MW: pause (I’m thinking – thoughts are flying through my head)
MW: “I’m here. Technically yes I can do that. However I am concerned about the request.”
S: “Why is that?”
MW: “I understand that you have this spot preference. However, I am not sure that supporting it is the best way for me to support you as a teacher. I believe that we need to practice whether it’s our preference or not. If we only practice according to our preferences – with a specific teacher, or at a specific time, or only one style, or when it’s in my spot – well, does that really serve us and our practice?”
We hung up so she could get to class. I did put a mat in “her” spot. Regardless of how I feel about it, the choice was the student’s. It really got me thinking, about preferences and practice…
Yoga Sutra I.12 states that there are two keys to attaining Yoga (union). These are:
1. A consistent and dedicated practice pursued with reverence; and
2. Non-attachment to the results of the practice.
From this sutra we know that we need to practice, yet Patanjali does not specify which practice. Does he mean meditation? Asana? Mantra? Loving Kindness? Reading scriptures? I believe it isn’t specified because we will all choose different paths to get to Yoga, our own path to attaining union and integration of our layers of being, however it is clear by this sutra that we must practice.
It is also clear that we must let go of the results of the practice. What does this mean? I believe it’s to let go of what we think life is supposed to look and feel like… to let go of needing life and practice to be a certain way (“MY” way). In my experience, trying to control everything is a safety/fear thing – the more fear we feel, the more we try to control the elements of our lives (people, relationships, work, results, traffic lights, etc). You can spend all the time you want trying to control the universe, however there is more ease and peace found by working with what is. Can you allow the yoga to unfold in its own way? Can you allow yourself and the universe to unfold in their own ways?
Now let’s talk about preference. According to the online dictionaries, preference is the act of preferring. When I look up “prefer”, the root of preference, it is choosing one over another; to like better, to give priority. Since I practice yoga to free myself from obstacles, suffering and my own limited views – I love the idea of preference! More than that, I love that having choices gives me a sense of freedom. I am very grateful for this.
How do these two pieces fit together (or not)?
Everyone practices for their own reasons (note: it’s good to know why we practice. What is the intention behind your actions? Acting from intention is the root of spiritual practice). That said, we know we need to practice consistently, and to dedicate ourselves as fully as we can to our practices. Your dedication to your practice is a reflection of your dedication to yourself.
With many things come challenges and obstacles. Challenges and obstacles are gifts (even if they don’t always feel like gifts) that allow us to build strength, courage, and determination as we grow and overcome them. I practice yoga to overcome my challenges and obstacles – including the challenges and obstacles to practice! Practice allows us to create the space to have and make choices. When we have choice, we can choose based on our preferences. There is however, one potential glitch in the matrix.
Sometimes, preference can be an obstacle to practice, instead of something that empowers us. If our preferences create situations where we don’t practice (it’s not “my: teacher, class, time, style, way, preference) then it is definitely an obstacle. Patanjali says to practice – not to practice only when it suits “you”, is with “your” teacher and you get “your” spot in the room. It’s also an indication of an imbalance in the keys to practice – we are challenged with letting go, practicing enough non-attachment to the results to get us on the mat in the first place (major obstacle!). Another indicator of preference as an obstacle is if we lose our balance, equanimity, and compassion when things are not to our preference.
As with all things yoga, there are two sides to the coin. On one hand, preference facilitates empowerment through the ability to choose. On the other hand, if we only act or practice when things are to our preference, we are basically setting ourselves up not to practice, which is an obstacle.
Do you know which your preferences are – obstacles or empowering?
Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love),
Mona L. Warner, ERYT500 & RYS500