There is definitely a certain persona that yoga culture tells us we’re all supposed to emanate as yogis. We should appear happy, tranquil, unshakeable… completely blissed out. Maybe even a little spacey.
And lots of times, practicing yoga or meditation really does make us feel this way. It’s not a façade at all. It’s who we really are.
But other times, it’s all an act. We’re stressed, sleep-deprived, angry, sad, unhappy with ourselves or others, or otherwise in a funk. And what do we do then? We can’t wear these feelings on the outside and still walk into a yoga class (certainly not in a place like Los Angeles where people take their yoga and its feel-good vibes so seriously). So we bring them all inside and hope that the practice of yoga will some how make it all better. Or we skip our yoga practice altogether because it’s so exhausting to play the part of a happy yogi when we’re not feeling happy at that moment.
Maybe you’ve never felt this way. Maybe you feel this way all the time. Whether you fit into either category or somewhere in between, it’s worth thinking about the energy we project into the world.
One of the most amazing lessons I’ve learned not just by practicing yoga, but by teaching it, is that the Buddha was right: There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.
Sometimes, just by acting happy – by putting on our yogi’s façade – we can actually be happy.
A yoga teacher always has a responsibility to be a steady, calm presence, and to leave whatever personal issues might be troubling her out of the classroom. Sometimes that’s no problem because we’re feeling good already, but sometimes we have to really work to embody a positive persona. When I prepare to teach a class, I put on my yoga teacher façade – happy, steady, tranquil, connected. Over time, this has become automatic. I become Yoga Teacher Tanja, which is one of my favorite versions of me.
It might sound a little odd to think about a teacher putting on a façade to teach. We want to believe that our teachers are just like the people we see them as in class, 100% of the time. But it’s just not true. It’s not true of the world’s best yoga teacher. It’s not true for the most learned ascetics and monks. And it’s not true for the Dalai Lama. We all have versions of ourselves that appear at different times and express themselves. But as a teacher, we must support our students by projecting the Yoga Teacher version during every moment of class time.
But what’s amazing about this practice is: it doesn’t matter what kind of a mood I was in before class, or what was going on in my mind. If I have truly dedicated myself to teaching from my heart (putting on a masterful performance as Yoga Teacher Tanja), I always feel the same way at the end of class.
Perfectly happy. Steady. Tranquil. And connected.
And then, it’s not a façade. It’s not an act. It’s how I truly feel.
Of course, sometime after class, I inevitably get back into my thoughts, zooming ahead to future plans, or getting stuck on something that happened yesterday. And I gradually lose track of that perfect happiness. And it’s not until I sit down for meditation, my own yoga practice, to teach, or get into the zone through some other action that I get another little taste of it.
For those moments, though, when I choose to project something positive and stay totally engaged in that moment, I become the very same positive energy that I’m projecting. And it’s an incredible thing to experience.
There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.
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So does that mean we should suppress our emotions and fit ourselves into the perfect model of outward happiness, only to deny who we are at any given moment? Of course it doesn’t.
But I believe it does mean that we can actively choose to influence our emotions with the energy that we send out into the world. And if you’ve paid attention, you’ve already noticed that the energy you send out multiplies itself. If you’re grumpy one day and you act grumpily, those around you are likely to take on a little bit of that grumpiness. But if you’re upbeat and friendly and positive, there’s a good chance you’ll raise the spirits of those around you. And then their good spirits will raise yours, and the cycle continues.
So the next time you feel yourself putting on your yogi’s façade, ask yourself if you can make it more than a façade. Concentrate on the energy you’re working to project and let the rest of your thoughts grow quiet.
And then watch what happens.