This week I asked students who came to class if it were their choice to practice yoga. Though it is often said that everyone can benefit from yoga, not everyone wants yoga.
About a year ago, I found myself listening in to an interesting conversation. I was going to teach corporate yoga, and as it was (and still is) my habit to be early to mentally prepare, I was asked to wait at the lobby. A student who practiced with me the week before saw his friend, and enthusiatically he invited his friend to join the class. The friend asked, "What is it like to do yoga?" to which he replied "Oh you get a good stretch, you feel calmer, more relaxed, you get some peace of mind." She quickly dismissed it and said, "Oh, I don't need that."
It is true and she is right. Not everyone wants or needs yoga. As my teacher David Life says, "Yoga is not for everybody...It is not for people who are interested in staying the same. It is relevant, important for people if they are interested in evolution, if they are interested in changing, if they are interested in making a better world. If everything is fine with you and your world, if you are happy, Yoga is probably not for you. But if you are dissatisfied, if you have one grain of unhappiness inside of you that is pulling you down then you should consider it." Maybe the friend is already happy. Maybe she has a path that has worked out really well for her. Maybe she is already enlightened. It is not for me to know. But I do know that we who practice yoga choose yoga because we are fed up with this one grain or two or three of unhappiness that seems to come out all the time.
It is easy to be deluded to think that we are peaceful. Then we get stuck in traffic or someone cuts in line in front of us or our mother says something we don't like hearing, and then the grain of unhappiness comes up and it becomes clear we are really not that peaceful. We think this unhappiness is caused by others doing things that affect us. We think others are blocking the pathway to our happiness. We think we are victimized by our circumstances. And we will continue to think such thoughts until we become fed up and have had enough and we start to wonder if there could be some other way of dealing with this cycle of unhappiness.
Yoga makes us understand the fundamental characteristic of unhappiness. It is a mental construct that is projected from within us. Others did not make us unhappy. We made ourselves unhappy. We often associate happiness with some external condition, an if-and-then equation that involves money and relationships and work conditions and statuses and whatnot. But this if-and-then equation is flawed. For one thing, even if we got what we wanted, we could always lose it. Or we can get exactly what we want and find that we are no more happier than before. Then we think we need more. Then we set up more conditions. Then we get caught up in a cycle. That is, until we are fed up.
Until we are fed up, we will be going through this viscious cycle of wanting what we do not have. But when we are ready to change, we see that all of that unhappiness is from within. And because it is a projection that we make, it is a state of mind that we can change.
One practical way to turn this "fed-upness" into change is to consider what we are fed up with, and also see that we are completely capable of contributing to the change of that situation. If we are fed up with traffic, we can ride the bike or take public transportation or move closer to where we work or carpool. If we are fed up with animal cruelty, we can go vegan or adopt homeless animals or provide information to others or volunteer at a shelter. If we are fed up with our fear of falling from inversions, then we get up and ask the teacher for assistance or practice by the wall or learn how to fall safely. If we are fed up with something but continue to sit and do nothing, maybe it is because we are not fed up enough. If we are truly fed up beyond the brim of our tolerance, we change things, we take action, we get up and we do something about it.
Yoga is not for everyone. It is for those of us who have a sincere desire to weed out unhappiness not only from ourselves but also from others. It is for those of us who are ready to accept that we are our own enemy and hero. It is for those of us who are fed up with our fickle, judgmental, dictatorial mind. It is for those of us who believe that all of our thoughts, words, and actions matter. It is for those of us who want to stop suffering. It is for those of us who want to be free.