I often say that yoga makes you better at absolutely everything, except remembering where you put your car keys.
A regular yoga practice boosts your immune system, regulates your hormones, makes you more creative, more honest, more compassionate, more sensitive, kinder, gentler, and altogether much more of a superhero. Car keys just don’t feel as important after Savasana.
That being said, there is an expectation that yogis—especially yoga teachers—should be able to uphold certain “yogic” ways of being. We should never get mad. Never get irritated. Never get petty or jealous or prideful and insist on being right. When we make mistakes in this way, we are accused of being "non-yogic." There are days when we feel we should just turn in our Yoga Badge to the authorities and slink away in shame.
Of course, that's not very compassionate either, is it? Yogis are humans too, full of the same mistakes as anyone else. The difference is that yogis have a laboratory for studying ourselves.
The yoga mat is a place where we put ourselves under stress, and focus in a way that allows us to watch our reactions. We practice stress: what does my body do when I turn upside down? How did that backbend make me feel? What thoughts and reactions are coming up when I try this challenging pose? Am I getting frustrated?
The cool thing is, you get to notice that you are getting frustrated. You bring your frustration from your subconscious, where your frustration pattern was seeded many moons ago, to the conscious surface. In the realm of your conscious mind, you have a choice to continue reacting to this unconscious force or to do something else altogether.
Which all sounds well and good. When I'm on my period and irritated and tired and totally overreacting to something my partner said, I can watch myself being irritated and tired and totally overreacting. I do notice that I’m doing it. That just doesn’t mean I’ll stop.
The choice is right there in front of me: continue to overreact, or take a breath and stop it. Many times, I will continue to overreact, knowing full well what I’m doing. It's really challenging to change your entire behavior over the course of one breath. Noticing is just the first step: acting rationally on your observations is a whole other story.
Recognizing this can also help us to work on our forgiveness. When someone is behaving irrationally, or treating you with disrespect, you can notice your own reactions to that and think about your choices. Did I do something that requires an apology or a change in behavior? Good question. But whether you did or didn't, that person’s treatment of you has a lot more to do with them than with you. Their reaction patterns are as deep-seated as yours, and whether they are self-observing and doing their best to make better choices is really none of your business. Assume that they are; it’s a much less anxious way to look at the world than assuming everyone is out to get you.
We always want to be our best—good yogis, compassionate, honest, superheroes, you know, the usual. We are still very much humans, though, and must acknowledge mistakes are really what we all have in common.
Nobody is a bad yogi. We are all just on our own journeys. When we can cultivate compassion and forgiveness for ourselves, then the storms and turbulence of the outside world starts to look a lot like you: easy to forgive, easy to love, and full of mistakes, all the time.