When you are in yoga class doing postures, vigilantly observe whether you have an urge to compare yourself with others, especially if you pretend not to care. When you discover this ingrained human urge, take a deep inhalation.
As your breath flows in, draw your awareness deep inside your heart. As you exhale, release the urge. Do the yoga only for yourself, even when a hundred other people are in the room. Your practice is for you alone. It is difficult to hear the soft voice of inner wisdom amidst the cacophony of constant comparisons. It is simply impossible to sense your soul when you are striving to be superior.
The ideal student of yoga is completely self-referential. Paradoxically, the wisdom of a master is often required to avoid the pitfalls of ego and self-delusion. However, an egoless teacher who is intent solely on guiding you to your true self is rare indeed. We must search deep and far for teachers who understand that our freedom and self mastery are more important than our submission to their authority and our exclusive adherence to their methods. While mediocre and insecure teachers love to rule others (even feigning humility at times), masters will invariably teach us how to find the teacher within ourselves. Though we often desire a quick solution from an authority, yoga teaches us that no one has all our answers; our answers are waiting inside of us. Indeed, our deepest questions arise from within — they are really reminders that the answers must also dwell within. The true master simply leads me back to myself.
One of the best ways to assist this process of casting off conditioning and attuning yourself to inner wisdom is to turn off commercial media, thereby guarding your mind against thoughts intended to enslave it. Commercial media is paid for by people who want you to do what they want you to do. They have profit motives. The big food companies don’t really care if you become fat, and the diet companies don’t care if you become thin. In fact, if everyone were thin, then the diet companies themselves would have to go on a monetary diet! Advertisers incessantly strive to convince us that we must maintain a figure that rarely fits our body’s needs, and live in ways that seldom enhance our soul’s purpose. For example, if my constitution is more kapha (to use the language of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of health and well-being), I feel more at peace with myself when I am slightly “overweight.” If my constitution is vata, I feel healthier when I am thinner. Greedy marketers try to put everybody into their self-serving box and then shame those who are on the outside. Yoga, on the other hand, bursts boxes, freeing us to express our individuality, our unique nature. It helps us find the inner wisdom that tells us what we feel, thereby allowing us the possibility of connecting to our highest truth.
Above all, in this process, be compassionate toward yourself. Be patient. Give yourself time to unfold. When you lose the desire to be instantaneously perfect, you are less likely to become enslaved by authorities who claim to “have all the answers.” Each of us must realize: “My answers for my life lie within me, and along with ardor and dedicated exploration, I must cultivate patience and compassion to let these answers, slowly but surely, reveal the wisdom within.
© 2008 Aadil Palkhivala