This is what Acharya (short for Yogacharya, translates to spiritual teacher, and is what we call Mr. Venkateshe) asked me today. I answered the mind. He paused, and asked me what makes the body strong? Like most of his questions you are left to answer them yourself. He wants us to figure it out for ourselves, to be our own teachers and make our own conclusions. He wants us to struggle to have to learn in order to deepen our understanding.
What makes your body strong? I know how to make my body strong by challenging it. By studying myself through asana, often with the help of a teacher to figuring out where i am physically weak, and then through hard practice and discipline strengthening those areas. I believe he asked me this question because I know the answer and it’s a metaphor for the question I’m here seeking an answer to: How do I make my mind stronger?
A basic example of this is evident in his response to Yoshiko, my Japanese house mate, when she asked him where she could buy the standard plain white t-shirt required for classes. He said you can buy them in any shop around here. She spent the whole day searching our local area until finally she discovered the one shop which sells plain white shirts. What’s the lesson here? Through that exploration Yoshiko learned every inch of our neighbour hood and what it had to offer. As a new student this understanding of her surroundings would prove be a life saver as her body and mind would not be up for the challenge of seeking out other basic needs once classes had begun. Lets just say after a practice with Acharya you don’t want to make any wrong turns and walk any further than you have to or make any major decisions (yoga brain!). Through her struggle finding her shirt she gained the awareness and independence that she needed to survive the first few days as her body detoxed and became accustom to the intense physical nature of the Asana here. He could have easily told her exactly where to go but that would have encouraged her to depend on him for answers to unnecessary questions. That day’s struggle made her stronger. Thankfully her lessons were not my lessons and after he gave me the exact same shopping directions she kindly guided me to the local white t-shirt store, and to Kumar, our coconut hero who always serves up only good coconuts and never rips you off. She also introduced me to a restaurant so fabulous that I’ve had every meal there since. You never know who’s going to teach you what you need to know to make that next step in your journey easier. We all have our own paths and our own lessons, and it’s important to realize no one’s journey is any less important than another’s.
Calm seas don’t make skilled sailors
In order for us to go beyond our current blockages we need to face struggles. Whether that struggle be physical like in Asana or perhaps less apparent like a mental, spiritual or emotional weakness that we wish we didn’t have to see in ourselves. Observing our role in the drama or disease in our lives enables us to identify where we need to strengthen our character to prevent similar struggles in the future. The Sutras teach us to prevent the pain that is yet to come. It’s hard and gruelling work!
Nobody wants to do what they are not good at, and I for one had to fly across the globe to enlist my teacher’s help to do what I know in my heart I need to do, but was to darn stubborn to do on my own.
How do you prevent the pain that is yet to come? For some of us it may mean following an online yoga video because we know we’ll never do brain washer series as long as I’ll make you do it in the video, or driving across town to go to a new studio. It could require letting go of whatever’s holding you back from picking up the phone and calling that friend you know you miss but had an argument with. Perhaps cutting ties with a person or a habit that you know in your heart is causing you pain. All and all it’s about doing the work, facing your challenges, knowing your habits and facing them head on in order to create the happy, healthy life of your dreams. Learning to embrace the struggles life sends you as best you can is the best way I know of to get through the tough times. See your role when the ship goes off coarse and make a solid effort to adjust your actions in the future to weather each storm with more ease and grace.
With that said, I’m going to embrace my aching muscles and haul my tired ass the 15 minutes to my restaurant and eat Idly because even though I would rater curl up and not move, I know without that effort I won’t make it through practice tomorrow. After today’s 20 minute holds in my nemesis poses, this girl has got to eat.