I started yoga in my late 20s simply as a fitness regime. I hated the high-energy gym classes where personal trainers yelled at their students to “motivate” them, and was immediately drawn to the soothing energy in a yoga class. Even so, for the first year of my yoga experience, my focus was simply on achieving the ideal pose in class. I would often compare my progress with other students around me – feeling frustration and envy when other students were stronger and more flexible than I was; and pride when I could achieve a pose that others couldn’t.
Yoga, at that time, was no different than anything else in my life. My education, my career, even my social life – they were all focused on how it looked on the outside and how it compared to others. Every time I succeeded in something, it meant I was better than someone else. And that feeling of superiority fed me and kept my ego happily bloated. Ironically, the determination to be better than everyone else kept me going to my yoga classes.
I was fortunate to have great yoga teachers around me, teachers that would constantly remind students like myself to divert our focus inwards. Gradually, I started becoming aware of the sense of both inferiority and superiority deep within me. Every time I felt frustration or envy, I was depriving myself from love – repeatedly setting irrational standards and thus never allowing myself the opportunity to be happy or content. And every time I felt pride, I was depriving myself the ability to whole-heartedly love – to see another being as they are, without comparison and judgment. I’ve always considered myself to be a kind-hearted person, so this awareness jolted me, waking me up from a deep slumber I never knew I was in.
One of my teacher used to say that the most advanced yogi is not one that does the most advanced poses, but one that can smile through a pose. This stuck with me deeply. And through my yoga asana practice, every time the awareness of inferiority or superiority surfaced, I would seek the inward warmth of my heart and try to project that out as a smile. No drama – no judgment towards the feelings that surface and no disappointment for failing to control them – just a genuine smile from the heart. It sounds simple enough, but just like everything that stems from the ego, we have a tendency of justifying these thoughts and emotions. So letting go of the attachment that comes with the emotion isn’t as easy as it sounds. But just like in the physical yoga poses, every thing comes with consistent conscious practice. And so began my internal yoga journey…
My practice over the years has taken me to many uncomfortable and unpleasant places, both on and off the yoga mat. And when I find myself indulging in negative non-constructive thoughts, I go back to that space in my heart and try to do the most advanced of all yoga poses in that moment: smile-asana.
Sunitha Prasobhan (@miss_sunitha), 200hr Yoga TTC Sept 2017