The mind enjoys making associations, putting things and people in boxes. That is its function after all. It's common for the mind to follow the ole' "if this, then that" formula. For example: If a person practices yoga, then he/she is a vegetarian. Eeek -- what if that's not true? What if you practice yoga but you're not a vegetarian? What happens when you have one foot in the box and one foot out of it?
I've been in that no man's land, myself. When I first started practicing yoga I would often meet other yoga practitioners (or people who had never practiced yoga before) who would make assumptions about me based on the one thing they knew about me -- that I was interested in yoga. Some people assumed that I had a meditation practice (I didn't at the time. It came later.) while others assumed that I was vegetarian (nope, that came later as well) while others thought I had joined some sort of cult and would soon be giving up all of my worldly possessions in service to my guru (ummmm...no. Wasn't true then and isn't true now.). I'd be lying if I didn't say that this was a bit...unnerving.
Of course I was reminded by some friends that this is a common practice -- judgment, stereotyping, etc. I'd also be lying if I didn't say that I haven't participated these practices at various points in my life as well. I'm not proud of it, but it's true. Journeying to yoga land taught me quite a bit about judging others and the uselessness of it, which is something that I am oh so grateful for. Once my perspective expanded, I simply laughed off the comments. Chalk up one to "can't see outside of the box."
A few years back, I was at a family function during which the subject of tattoos came up. Many family members were making disparaging remarks about "tats." I sat there quietly listening to the comments of those around me. Suddenly, an older relative, looking a little sheepish, said something to the effect, "We shouldn't really say this, especially when you never know who might have a tattoo. Maybe Diane has a tattoo." Hmmmm...did he say this because I was silent during the discussion or did he say it because he knows that I'm a yoga practitioner and he believes that people who practice yoga have tattoos? My gut was telling me the latter. [For the record: No, I don't have any tattoos.]
I see this happening a lot -- people assume that one who practices yoga must... (take your pick from the following -- and feel free to add some of your own, as this list isn't exhaustive):
- Be "crunchy"
- Not wear fur
- Not eat meat
- Be able to hold handstand for 5-10 breaths at the very least and contort his/her body into pretzel-like positions at the very most
- Practice yoga at least 5 hours/week
- Always exude a calm peacefulness
- Lose his/her temper
- Meditate for hours each day
- Have an Om symbol (or any type of tattoo) tattooed somewhere on his/her body
- Have traveled to India
- Have a guru
The list goes on and on. Are these natural assumptions that the mind makes? Perhaps.
When others do this sort of thing, you can laugh it off or put it down to group think/popular belief. But what happens when you do it to yourself? Suddenly, you're beating yourself up for eating meat or losing your temper or maxing out your credit card. Are you punishing yourself for not fitting into the yoga box?
There was a time when I was wee bit over-identified with being a yoga practitioner. I would start beating myself up if I didn't practice yoga every day. If I craved meat and then fed that craving, I would feel like a fallen yogi. You get the idea. Yoga is about relationship, after all, and I was using yoga to harm my relationship with myself. It wasn't fun, and it sure as heck wasn't useful.
A few years back I was learning from teachers who had quite a bit of experience in a particular yoga tradition. I respected them greately for all of their years of study. For quite some time I soaked in their teachings until one day I realized that they didn't actually epitomize what I thought a long-time practitioner should. I thought they were rigid, ego-centric, and overly attached to their dogma. The irony of this didn't escape me -- I had an idea in my head of what I think a long-time practitioner of yoga should be like and what a true teacher should be like and these people didn't fit these molds.
There it goes again -- my mind was boxing things in.
Do you box yourself in? Do you pressure yourself to meet certain yoga stereotypes? If you can't touch your toes or don't have a perfect yoga body or eat meat, do you think that this makes you less of a yogi?
This isn't a post about answers but a post about questions. Every now and again, it's wise to take a step back and question assumptions -- yours and those of others. Just a little food for thought...