yoga blog

the mat becomes a mirror

the mat becomes a mirror

I look at the yoga classroom similar to the environment for a scientific experiment. In this case, the subject being studied is our own personal life. The mat is a test container through which our own chemistry can develop – our thoughts, feelings, current or past experiences – to then be observed. Observed at a magnified level, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

Off the mat we have mechanisms and avoidance strategies to distract away from our own pain, sorrow and discomfort. But on the mat we can’t hide them. When we watch ourselves in the mirror for those 60 or 90 minutes of class time, we will (if we choose to look) see everything.

We will see our flaws and shortcomings.

We will see where tension accumulates.

And, if we allow ourselves to look more closely, we can also see and embrace the perfection of the being that we are.

Yoga is our invitation to see our own Light, and in order to do that, we have to first see through those mental distractions that tell us everything that’s wrong. And we can only do this if we let go of expectations of the outcome.

Every day that we step onto the mat is an opportunity to do so with a clean slate and fresh perspective. Every day we can approach our practice as if it’s the first time. But that’s not easy! Our ego-mind tells us that we need to make comparisons.

Comparison with yesterday.

Comparison with the person practicing next to us.

Comparison with the image we have in our mind of what our practice should look like.

After all, today’s world is intensely focused on imagery – ads, magazines, websites, Facebook and Instagram. They’re an integral part of our reality and the way we view our world. And the way we view yoga. We think that if our dancers pose doesn’t look like that picture of @fabulousyogini21, then we must be miserably failing at yoga. We think that we should get a heavy sweat every time and strive for magazine-worthy alignment.

But how great that this is exactly what our yoga practice is for!

That every time we get on the mat we get to let that go. Let go of some unrealistic expectation of what we should look or feel like and have a few moments in which we come at peace with just the way we are.

So if yoga class is like the controlled environment for a scientific experiment, then yoga training is this condensed and multiplied by 10.

When we embark on the yoga teacher training path we are bound to have expectations. We assume, and rightfully so, that we will receive in-depth knowledge about postures, anatomy, and yoga philosophy, and we carry an idea of how this should be both packaged and presented.  In practice, however, this is our biggest opportunity for a life changing experience. Our biggest opportunity for the most room to release preformed ideas and expectations. Because, just like that one class, whatever your ‘stuff’ is will come up. You will have to face it in yoga training.

And it will be something else other than what you had mentally prepared for.

When I did my own training, I signed up for 9 weeks in a different country, on a different continent. A place that I had never been! There were 280 other students, and we were spending 6 days a week from 8:00am until midnight often in that same big, sweaty yoga room. There were 10 showers for 200 women, and lunch was consumed while sitting in little clusters of people on the ground of the parking lot.

For me, growing up as an only child, having my own, private space is a given. I’m used to processing my thoughts and emotions in solitude. My expectations for teacher training was that I would have enough time and space for that same reflection in solitude. But instead, no matter how hard I tried to find a space to be alone and dive inward, I was surrounded people 24/7. A lot of people. 280 people dealing with their own shit. And it drove. me. nuts!

But the only way around it was to go through it.

Till this very day I still deeply appreciate my silence and solitude. However, I have embraced sharing my life with others. Evolation teacher trainings don’t have 280 people it in, thank goodness. But we do live with 10 or 20 other yogis for one or two months. We share our meals and spend most the day together. We practice and study as a community.

I wouldn’t have been able to lead an evolation training if I hadn’t accepted that being surrounded by people is ‘my thing’ or if I wouldn’t have let go of this expectation around my vision of what training should look like.

Over the many years that we’ve led teacher trainings, we now know there will always be some type of disruption. Students who live with a closely regulated life and schedules tend to get flustered easily when we make the slightest adjustment to our training schedule. Students, like me, that expect to have a certain amount of privacy will eventually get irritated by their roommate. Those who are obsessively tidy will get annoyed by the dirty cup or some laundry a fellow trainee left sitting out. Night owls will think that our training starts too early whereas early risers will think our program ends too late. And lets not get started about everything involved in the studying process!!

But you have nowhere else to go! In training, you are forced to face these irritations and highly controlled patterns. After all, our busy minds are always trying to create experience. And mostly we’re after an experience that is modeled after a certain expectation.

But if you want to get the most out of that scientific experiment that is your yoga class, teacher training or your life, you’d better do everything in your power to detach from those expectations.

Instead, try to just create space for any experience to unfold by itself, so that all that is left for you to actively do, is embrace the perfection of the being that you are.

I will leave you with these words from a famous song by Michael Jackson…

I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways

No message could have been any clearer

If you wanna make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself and then make the change

You gotta get it right, while you got the time

’Cause when you close your heart

You can’t close…your mind!

Then you close your…mind!

Zefea Samson

Zefea had her first experience with yoga at the age of 4 when her parents practiced with renowned teacher Angela Farmer in the Iyengar tradition. She forgot about yoga during her teens and twenties and trained for boxing and the combat system Krav Maga. Zefea rediscovered the benefits of yoga when she started practicing Bikram Yoga in her home town Amsterdam. From 2006-2008 she represented the Netherlands as the Dutch gold medalist in the International Yoga Championships, finishing in the world's top 10. Zefea experienced new depths of yoga through practicing while pregnant (up till the day of giving birth).