Comparison brings inferiority, superiority. When you don’t compare, all inferiority, all superiority, disappears. Then you are, you are simply there. A small bush or a big high tree–it doesn’t matter; you are yourself. You are needed. A grass leaf is needed as much as the biggest star. Without the grass leaf God will be less than he is. This sound of the cuckoo is needed as much as any Buddha; the world will be less, will be less rich if this cuckoo disappears. Just look around. All is needed, and everything fits together. It is an organic unity: nobody is higher and nobody is lower, nobody superior, nobody inferior. Everybody is incomparably unique.
Osho, The Sun Rises in the Evening
Competition is like a flu, invisible but often epidemic. When cloaked in trendy yoga gear, spiritual quotes and fixed ideals it can easily be confused for an earnestness in seeking. Like all competition it undermines, it robs us of our trust of self, it distances us from our centre, it chokes our fire. I overstrained nearly every joint in my body in my early years of yoga. Instead of receiving the teachings from an empty mind, I transposed all the comparative and linear thinking of my western education on to the ancient practices designed to guide my attention inward. With half an eye on the extensions of others across the room, and half my thoughts on how I compared, there wasn’t much of me left to settle inward to the strong, tender well-spring sanctuary I now know as ‘home’. Home inside myself. Present with what is. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, following my breath until it breathes me, until eventually there is only breath, breathing itself.
The ancient sanskrit word ‘yoga’ has often been translated to mean ‘union’. Union of heaven and earth, union of masculine and feminine aspects of self, union of body, mind and spirit. Union is the antithesis of separation. Years ago I found myself in a yoga class, sweat dripping into my nose, shaking legs awaiting the teacher’s words to end the torturous foreverness of a wide-legged forward bend. Physical challenge can cultivate mental focus, endurance of body and mind, and a dissolution of ego. From between my legs I saw a room full of striving egos dominating their bodies, motivated by competition. Who was bent further forward? (even at the expense of over extending knee ligaments) Who could appear the coolest, breathe the deepest, stretch the farthest, be the hippest, holiest yogi? Best in the class. Life seen through the ruthless filter of constant comparison shrinks the naturally generous spirit and tightens the muscle of the heart. The original asanas were solely for the purpose of preparing the body to sit comfortably for meditation.
Authentic yoga practice begins when we become completely present in the moment, body and mind. If the attention is drawn to achieving, having a fixed goal or target, we can often miss the moment itself: the nuances of the body, the subtle messages of the mind, the observance of patterns of thought, the patience with our development. When we slow it all down, and re-frame the experience of the moment from a place of observation and scholarly interest, we awaken the qualities of acceptance and compassion for our human condition.
With each movement I wait for the breath. Even if that means I move at a different pace to other students in the class. I bring my totality to my practice cultivating one pointed focus, containment, and self awareness. From here I recognise the entire class of students as my sangha, my community of devoted practitioners, and the depth of their pratyahara, inward focus, has an uplifting contagiousness that deepens my practice. There is no such thing as an advanced student, the more I can find myself as a beginner, clear and alert, free of habitual ways of thinking or moving, the more room I will have for recieving the grace of the ancient practice of Hatha Yoga.
Competition is the masculine approach. Community is the feminine approach. Which will I bring to my yoga practice? Which will serve me in my life? From a competitive or comparative stance I am never good enough, or I remain isolated because I am better than…. From a place of communing and attunement to the moment I can ease the grip of my relentless egoic mind and refrain from a barrage of psychic projections on others. To harness and contain this energy will strengthen my bhakti, my devotional heart, my self love, my Shakti, creative life force energy. Namaste. I bow in gratitude for the sacred teachings of yoga.
“Yoga will always be transformational, even when it stops being cool.”