My role as a yoga teacher has lots of facets – I teach movement, breathing, meditation, philosophy, anatomy, history, poetry, the list goes on and on. But if you really take a close look, my role is basically to help people to be present and mindful. What does that mean? Well, like when you wake up, be waking up. When you eat your breakfast, be eating your breakfast. When you drive to work, be driving to work. When you move your body, be in your body.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, actually it’s pretty hard, and that’s why we often need someone to help us to practice over and over again for days, months, years. And, in fact we aren’t usually satisfied with one person helping us to be present and holding a space of present-momentness. Usually, we tuck our mats under our arms and frolic around the world getting other teachers to tell us the same stuff, but with maybe something a little different like, when you are eating your breakfast, eat this way and that will make you present. When you move your body, move it this way and that will be the key to enlightenment. And, for a while it kind of works and you think the new teacher or new system is the greatest in the world and you’ve had a total breakthrough and you’ll never go back to mindlessly stuffing spoonfuls of granola into your mouth again. But, the sad truth is that the breakthrough high wears off, and you don’t always stay present and you aren’t always mindful. So, you pop your mat under your arm and go see someone else for some helpful advice about precisely where to put your spoon or your mat or your gaze or your toes in order to become enlightened.
Too often in our continued journey what we are really looking for in the next teacher, technique or training system is a way around the every-day-work-on-being-present business. Like the ab rockin’ roller crunchers advertised on TV, we really do want to be calmer, more peaceful, more at home in ourselves – we just want to have that in 4 minutes a day rather than 1,440 minutes a day.
I went to see this Tibetan Lama once who everyone told me was the greatest healer/teacher/metaphysician in the world and that I should expect miracles. So, I went to see him and he was all that – he was a truly amazing man, and he provided me with the most profound healing I’ve ever experienced. Here’s what happened. He asked me if I wanted to know the secret to enlightenment. And my eyes lit up like a 4 year old at Christmas and I said ‘gimme’. So, he told me the secret to enlightenment, and here it is. He told me that the secret to enlightenment is every day, as often as you can, ask yourself three questions: ‘where am I’, ‘what am I doing’, and ‘what am I thinking’.
Of course, when he told me this I was pissed. Take that 4 year old at Christmas and swap the expected bright shiny new toy with a hand-knitted sweater from Aunt Muriel. In wool. That’s how disappointed I was. I wanted the secret – the one that would get me out of all the ho-hum of daily practice. But there is no magic secret to enlightenment. There is no trick or technique to being present except to practice being present. And when you aren’t present, be present with the experience of not being present. That’s it.
This is the essence of what is happening in a yoga class. Sure there are many benefits for the systems of the body, including improved strength, flexibility, and balance. But, in essence, your yoga class of down dogs and warriors is, at its foundation, a practice in being present. And there are amazing yoga teachers out there who can help, and there is nothing wrong with working with some of them, or all of them, and reading new books, watching new dvds, or trying new theories or techniques – everyone and every resource will support, inspire, and encourage you in your journey. But, the thing to remember is that no one can be present for you – that you’ve got to do for yourself.