I lay awake, muscles strained and sore, unable to sleep after the yoga class that I’d taken earlier in the day.
We had explored “easy” or basic poses, and the teacher had encouraged us to stay in the poses far longer than usual. Her approach turned “easy” poses into much more advanced poses.
While I held each pose, exploring new feelings, new ways of being. I forgot about the straining hamstring or tight hip joint. I ignored the discomfort and pain and kept pushing. The instructor led us into new territory, inviting us to experiment, and I trusted her as an experienced teacher to know how far I could go. But that was a mistake.
An unspoken partnership exists between student and teacher. As a student, you need to know your own body in ways the teacher cannot and will never know it. You can trust your teacher, but, first, you must trust your own inner teacher. Otherwise, you may pay the price of trusting an overzealous teacher: sore muscles; sleepless nights; laying awake wondering why you pushed so hard instead of resting in child’s pose.
How do you determine how far to stretch or twist? How do you know what’s in your best interest, what might help you experience the pose without suffering an injury, stiffness, or soreness after you leave class?
Practicing yoga is an ongoing process of making decisions: Will this pose help or hurt? Will pushing further set me back or help me advance in my practice? Each decision leads from one choice to another. Yoga, in some profound way, is all about learning to make wise choices in our practice and in our lives.
What is a wise choice? In an attempt to offer a definition, I came up with a brief list as I lay awake thinking about the choices that I’d made earlier in my yoga class:
- A wise choice is beneficial.
- A wise choice enriches your practice
- A wise choice nurtures your body and your spirit.
- A wise choice helps you connect with your heart.
- A wise choice gives you more energy.
- A wise choice generates happiness and joy.
- A wise choice lets you sleep at night.
Each of us has a different scale by which we measure our choices and the worth of our choices, and what is right or what works for one may not—will likely not—work for another.
In the end, we have to learn to rely on our inner teacher and teach ourselves to make wise choices for our practice and for our lives.
What is a wise choice? It’s the choice that leads us away from egotism and self-delusion toward wisdom, self-knowledge, and inner peace.
Practice Journal: Notice the decisions you make on your mat the next time you take a class. What prompts you to make one choice rather than another? How would you define a “wise” choice? Make a list of choices that you made in your yoga practice (or in your life) today, then set aside fifteen minutes to write about why you made these choices and whether they proved beneficial.