Don't Judge A Yogi By Their Uttanasana
I eat red meat. I get drunk some nights and wake up the next morning like I’m moving through opium soup. I love the cold of metal, the grit of dirt, and a sneaky crack in glass.
But I’m a professional yoga teacher and live every aspect of my life fundamentally yogic-ly. There is a constant assumption by those who don’t know me well that I’m a vegetarian, or that I wouldn’t want to be invited to a barbeque, or that I can only eat organic hummus. I’m here to say that I love a nice steak and genuinely feel that it weakens my system to not have a regular intake of animal proteins. I love organic food, but I’d eat a petrol station banana if I was hungry enough. I think I do enough cleaning-up work in my practice and my life to be okay with a healthy dose of toxins. So, the question is, what is it to be a yogi?
There are a few guidelines that can detail this. There are the fundamental 8-limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas, and various Vedic texts that offer insight into how to live by yoga. While I uphold and adore all of these tools, there are a few things I’d include for being a yogi in the modern world.
• Remember Balance. Sometimes it’s more harmful to stress over eating only organic or avoiding meat or whatever banned food is trending, than to just have a small dose or treat of the thing you like to avoid. A dance teacher I know has a good rule. She doesn’t agree with saying “no” to foods. Instead, she tells herself that she can eat as many of the chocolates, biscuits, hamburgers, chips, etcetera, that she wants, but only after she’s eaten the whole list of healthy things she has on her daily list of things to eat. The list of daily foods is long though—including spinach, kale, mushrooms, coconut-based yogurt, bee pollen, peppers, green onion, red onion, garlic, ginger, apples, bananas, a handful of nuts and seeds, lentils, berries of some sort, sweet potato or parsnip, and wheatgrass if it’s available. I mean, she can barely finish the list of good things, much less even consider a treat. When she goes out for a dinner, she orders meat, but she usually doesn’t cook meat at home unless she feels it necessary. The theory of not telling herself “no” allows her to take the stress off, but also to incorporate all the good things she needs for the day.
• There’ No Need To Be A Saint. I find there’s a misconception that a yogi’s life outside of class revolves around sitting under trees, quoting proverbs, and doing charity work. So Not True. Sure, you could spend your days like this, and some do! And it’s great! But many of us have lives and relationships that are just as complex and difficult to manage as any other. Perhaps we work extra hard to be mindful in the handling of our doings and relations, but it’s not always a bed of roses and singing and campfires. And, honestly, I think yogis are just good at finding joy in the mess of reality. It’s a healthy change of perspective.
• A Yogi Can Appreciate Luxury. Indeed, it’s good to not be ruled by possessions or gawk at every pair of fancy boots that cross your path. But there’s something to be said about the craftsmanship of style and finery. After all, the fancy things in this world are, at their base level, made by man. They can be appreciated, but not put on an impossible pedestal. The important thing is to realize is that these things come and go. You might be staying the night in a big marble-floored house one night and then sleeping on a cot in a Bedouin village the next. The sweet spot is to find the same pleasure in both places. A diamond can be as precious as a stone depending on the value the holder places on it.
• It’s Okay To Explode With Emotion. The general demeanour of a yogi is that they are always calm and relaxed and never get worked up. While maintaining this even temper is hugely beneficial in solving problems and managing conflicts of communication, there are times, mostly in the quiet moments of solitude, when it’s perfectly okay for an eruption of emotion. A good cry prevents suppressed feelings. Yelling at the top of a mountain can help to break calcifications within the body and soul. A dose of unstoppable giggles in bed with a partner can send the spirit soaring. To feel is to be alive and it’s important to pay attention to these feelings because they are our teachers and contain nuggets of wisdom for us to harvest.
The next time you leave your yoga class, smile at your teacher and know that they are human and experience many of the same things you do. It might encourage you to ask them different questions about your practice or even just to have a chat after class. You’d be amazed at the lives different yoga teachers lead.
Find the style of life that suits you and let your yoga reflect and fine-tune it. The world will open up in so many wonderful ways when you give yourself this challenge. You’ll find that the challenge will turn into the greatest gift from you to you.