In all of the group classes that I teach, my responsibility is limited to the yoga class itself, giving introductions, addressing questions, assisting in asana or explaining yoga philosophy to the best of my ability. In Jivamukti Yoga School in New York as well as other centers around the world, sometimes yoga teachers have front desk duties and sign people in. I had heard that one time there was a student who was new to Jivamukti, and this student was rude to the person who signed him (or her) in to the class, only to find out after walking into the class that the person he or she was rude to was the yoga teacher. I can imagine the embarrassment. But then, why would it be different if one were rude to a front desk staff or a teaching staff? Why would we treat a CEO differently from a janitor, a doctor differently from a cashier, a businessman differently from a homeless person? Why do we as a society take it for granted that we treat others according to their jobs or the money they have or the money they don't have or what they look like or how they dress or what accent they have or where they went to school? Why all of this distinction and judgment and categorization and segmentation and separation?
The Jivamukti focus of the month for June 2014 is Union Through Others. I think the choice of words "union through others" as opposed to "union with others" emphasizes that we want to talk about the path. In what way can we find yoga? Through whom can we find union? The answer is "others". My teacher Sharon Gannon wrote in her essay that "if we want to know who we are, it will have to start with how willing we are to look at the way we are treating others...." Yes we are human and we have good days and bad days. When we have good days, to treat others with warmth and friendliness and courtesy and compassion is easy. When we have bad days, we may find that we are impatient and curt and we snap at people. That is why we have to consider this: Do we really want to act as though we are having a bad day all the time? Do we want to act as though we are having a bad life? Do we want to treat others badly and be that person?
We treat others in a negative way when we do not know any better. We mistakenly think that we are competing against each other- for power, for attention, for resources, for countless other reasons. We are immersed in this illusion that we are different, that for me to win you have to lose, for my life to be abundant you have to suffer. We are deeply scarred in insecurity when we think we have to put others down in order to lift ourselves up.
Yoga offers a solution. Yoga teaches us to look beyond our perceived differences. When we practice a challenging pose, say an arm balance like flying crow, we may notice that in a group class each individual person is at a different pace. The outside form of the pose looks different person to person. One yoga practitioner may be in preparation, another may be in the fullest expression of the pose, yet another may have come to rest because of an injury, so on and so forth. The external shape looks different, but everyone is trying his or her best to get there. In the same manner, we may look different to each other in our choice of religion or politics or ethics or any affinity, but ultimately we are just trying to live our lives and be as comfortable as we could be. We understand through the experience of our own body and our own practice that everyone struggles and everyone faces challenges, and that everyone desires to be happy, and everyone desires to be free. The differences that we may see are only superficial layers that we can easily get past if we choose to look deeper into ourselves and into others.
As a jiva or a soul within a physical body, we are bound to experience many emotions and moods and struggles and difficulties. We may have a tendency to react without thinking. That is why we practice. Next time someone says something we do not like or does something we do not agree with, instead of resorting to our knee-jerk reaction of judging negatively, pause and consider how you would treat this other person if this other person were your yoga teacher. After all, all others are our yoga teachers. All others are here to give us the opportunity to find our path through others. All others are here to teach us about yoga or union.