In this post, I share a question that has been posed to me by an Ashtanga Mysore yoga student. I think it's relevant to all students practicing under a particular yoga, meditation, language, etc. teacher or guru.
"I have been practicing Mysore yoga for the last year with an Ashtanga teacher in the early mornings six days a week. I really love the practice and am clearly dedicated. I have learned so much about my body, myself and am increasing in confidence. I respect my teacher immensely but lately something has shifted. I'm starting to feel like I'm doing my practice more to impress him than for my own good. When I arrive late or seem to be giving only 90 percent of myself in a posture, I hear about it, negatively. His hands-on adjustments and direction have become more insistent than encouraging. I'm afraid to tell him when I feel he's pushing too hard on my body. Who I once thought was an unconditionally loving, supportive teacher seems to be showing a less empathic side of himself. If I have a morning I don't feel well and would rather sleep in, I force myself to show up at Mysore practice because I fear the guilts and negative feedback I might receive if I don't. I'm now starting to dread going. How do I reclaim my practice for myself? I'm starting to feel like I'm in an abusive, one sided relationship, all twisted and confused what is mine versus his. Help!"
Unfortunately, I have had similar and multiple experiences in my yoga timeline. Like any classroom setting, many yoga practices are set up with an existing power dynamic such as the one you describe. Unfortunately, it sometimes becomes abusive when a teacher is not practicing the principles they teach such as "ahimsa," nonviolence toward self and others. The kindest yoga teachers encourage exploration inward versus rigid compliance and are able to see their students as being on separate paths versus narcissistic products of themselves. Sounds like you need to set boundaries with your teacher pronto! When he comes over to adjust you, muster up the courage to say, "that feels like enough" and/or "I'm feeling sensitive today and require less hands-on help." You might then be able to have a conversation with him, away from the mat, where you describe your experience of feeling consumed by impressing him, your guilt, versus doing your practice for you. If he truly is a self aware, enlightened teacher, he will be empathic to your needs. If he takes offense, you have more valid reason for seeking another teacher who is more interested in honoring you versus his/her ego. Another deeper layer to explore is whether you tend to measure your self worth based on being validated from others. If so, no matter who your teacher, you might create a similar dynamic. As far as I know, no gold stars are handed out at the end of a yoga class. Every student enters already wearing one. Find yours and keep showing up on your mat, when and where you feel most supported.
Today everyone seems to be living hectic, over scheduled, instantly gratifying, inpatient lives. It's no wonder many complain of insomnia and interrupted sleep which leads to lethargy, irritability and difficulty focusing during the day. Our minds are often racing when our head hits the pillow. Waking up the next morning, our minds are typically immediately full of the day's stressors.
If you are one of these people, I challenge you to begin practicing some sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene includes:
From my experience and expertise, I have witnessed the most successful couples have not just physical chemistry, but also and even more important, emotional intimacy. What is emotional intimacy, you ask? Many people in general, and couples in particular, think they know their partner well and have good communication. Sadly, there is a whole deeper level of sharing that is not happening.
Emotional intimacy can be expressed in verbal and non-verbal communication. The degree of comfort, effectiveness, and mutual experience of closeness might indicate emotional intimacy between individuals. Intimate communication is both expressed (e.g. talking) and implied (e.g. friends sitting close on a park bench in silence). Emotional intimacy depends primarily on trust, as well as the nature of the relationship and the culture in which it is observed. Emotional intimacy is different from sexual intimacy. Many people confuse physical intimacy as including emotional intimacy, but I assure you, they are not the same nor all inclusive. Sexual intimacy can take place with or without emotional intimacy, which differs from emotional intimacy because it often does not occur within any kind of sexual context. Emotional intimacy is a psychological event that happens when trust levels and communication between two people are such that it fosters the mutual sharing of one another's deepest selves. Emotional intimacy can be shared with not just your partner in life, but with friends, family, colleagues, even pets. Depending on the background and conventions of the participants, emotional intimacy might involve disclosing thoughts, feelings and emotions in order to reach an understanding, offer mutual support or build a sense of community. Or it might involve sharing a duty, without commentary.
Deep intimacy requires a high level of transparency and openness. For example, do you typically discuss the events and content of your day with your partner? Or do you include how you felt and your personal perceptions about your day? Does your partner know your triggers, your fears, your proudest achievements and vice versa? The latter sharing involves a degree of vulnerability that can feel uncomfortable or anxiety-producing to many individuals. I believe the common fear is that if your partner really saw your insides, the true you, would they like what they see? or reject you? These feelings do, however, tend to diminish and even dissolve over time and with practice. Couples who partake in this act of emotional intimacy are able to be more comfortable with each other. They feel they can share their dreams and their positive characteristics, along with the negative characteristics that they may have. There are great moments and also tough moments that come along within a relationship. Emotional intimacy is being able to communicate your feelings to show how much you care.
Here are some tips to begin trying out more emotional intimacy in your relationships:
• You might first need to explore in therapy why you have a resistance to sharing more of your vulnerable self. Perhaps there is a good reason and prior history of not trusting others or knowing the world is safe. Work to identify, at this day and age, which characteristics feel safe to you in other people. Once you can identify some trusted confidants, give her/him the chance to demonstrate something different to you.
• Share a layer deeper about yourself with others.
"I had a meeting with my team today then I went out and grabbed a sandwich for lunch." vs "I felt really frustrated during a meeting today when I felt I wasn't being heard nor supported by my team. I walked out irritated and didn't know what to do with myself. I ended up getting a huge grilled sandwich and ate the entire thing which resulted in a stomachache the rest of the day."
• Even more advanced in becoming Emotionally Intimate, is to identify and express your feelings AND explore the NEEDS below them.
"I notice no one has called me back today. I am feeling lonely. I believe I'm needing to be seen and heard and have a sense of belonging today."
• Ask more open ended questions of your trusted partner/friends and follow with showing curiosity and asking for more information.
"What was your day like? Tell me more about ____________. How was that for you?"
• Initiate affectionate physical touch that has no agenda (nurturing not sexual).
Initiate hand holding with your partner/friend or reach out and touch their arm, leg.
This is where I share MY TRUTH.... authentically, some of my thoughts, inspirations and insights that might be of service for whomever has interest and need.