The Rigid Mind

Have you ever noticed the tension building on people’s shoulders, hands, fingers, jaws and even facial expressions as they relentlessly and perhaps, even aggressively, defend their deeply rooted points of view? I have. I notice it in myself every time I neglect to remember that we all have a very unique view of the world and that each of us has chosen to hold firm to stories, patterns and ideas of what our egos deem most acceptable and most deplorable in turn for many years; all without truly knowing where these beliefs stem from in truth or how our unconscious labeling of people and things only serves to further isolate and enslave us in ways we can’t even begin to fully comprehend.

I notice it when I forget that the things I am coloring a shade of dark rigidity do not matter and when I think myself superior to someone else simply because to my own perspective, I have chosen the only one and true path and anyone who dares walk a different realm is, of course, wrong. I notice it most fervently with in people and communities who have placed so much matter in a set of ideals, processes or words that they negate, attack and belittle anyone who does not agree with them.

This is the realm of rigid entanglement that leads to so much anger and hatred amongst us. It is the realm that refuses to allow for the possibility of unique perspective or individualized creation with in all things. And in a very egoic manner, it is a realm that negates that we are ultimately all part of the whole. Part of the same energetic field, placed here to serve and love one another in deeper ways, because if we were to remember this and truly hold space for each other in this manner, we would automatically cease to have the only answer to all things, we would have to listen to, respect and understand another’s story, another’s perspective and another’s presence of mind with in this same realm we all share.

This realm, I fear can cripple us when we are dealing with certain aspects of our practice and beliefs. It is the realm that demands all other vibrations be cast off and that we forget what true Ahimsa actually means. Because, how can we keep ahimsa with a yogi who eats meat? Right? Or a “so called yogi” who does more than asana and pranayama on a daily basis? How can we not lord our ‘superiority’ over those who have not yet understood that there is only one way to do these poses, only one way to live as a yogi, only one path to follow in order to become enlightened. And it decidedly is only our own path that is right; not theirs. Right?

I hope you can hear my true intention in this. I am hoping that you can see how exclusionary behavior of this nature engenders further rigidity, separation and anger with in us. I want to help you see that what you are judging most harshly with in others around you is, in fact, that aspect of the shade with in your own self that you have yet come to terms with. And I want you to remember that each of us is unique. Each of us has shadow and light with in us and in that space, a balance may yet to be found. But simply because someone is in a different space of awareness from you, or simply because they chose to assign matter to different things, or simply because their beliefs of ego’s stories and fear-tinted perspectives have brought them to see things in a certain manner, does not make you better than them, does not make them less than you and does not give us the right to inflict humiliation or pain upon them and then claim that we were just “expressing our truth” while using our tongue as a weapon or “helping them see the truth” by forcing them into submission or even “rising above” them by belittling them and then mocking them or judging them in a hateful, rigid and useless manner. 

I write this because for the last few months I have been noticing more and more rigidity forming with in the yoga community. And hear me when I say, I am the first to admit that I can very often be very rigid myself; to the point where it took a loving teacher and friend speaking the words “get the stick out of your ass in your practice” for me to finally notice this in myself. So, I am not writing a letter of condemnation and I am only trying to voice the pain I have seen and felt from others when this pattern of rigid nonsensery (I have no better word for it) takes over a community that is meant to go beyond this stiffness.

For some, I think this is a weapon being yielded with the intent to protect that which we love most and hold most dear in the face of an idolatry-infused version of its old self. -You know, where the poses you strike on Instagram matter more than the actual work on the mat, or the fast pace and intensity of each class has slowly obliterated the importance of breath and awareness in a practice that is meant to be much more internal and less about how many chaturangas you can crank in under a minute – But some of this “protectiveness” is lashing out in places it shouldn’t, confusing our message and leading us to create tighter, more rigid boundaries where we don’t even need them.

To give a small example, (Disclaimer: I am about to state something that will likely get your ego’s flaming weapons of rage locked and loaded. But remember, breathe into these words, observe why you are responding in such a manner and then realize that if you soften into openness, you may glimpse the truth and the intention behind the words.) making other yogis feel like they are less than simply because they are not vegan is a rigid entanglement of egoic self-righteousness of the highest order. Yep, roll your eyes and get angry, but remember what I said in the disclaimer. Breathe, hear the intent and be open to the possibility that ahimsa cannot mean the absolute negation of animal flesh to absolutely everyone.

I am sorry. But not everyone in the world is built the same way. Many of us have medical conditions that benefit from a plant-based diet and many of us have experienced first-hand the negative side effects of forcing a body that is not built for it to not consume certain foods. Some of us come from a long line of vegetarian ancestors, and therefore, are genetically ready for this dietary paradigm; but some of us came from sheep-herders and nomad tribes that subsisted on higher amounts of animal flesh and thus, genetically, we are more receptive to these meals. AND each of us is in a constant state of flux. Our bodies may be very well able to consume certain foods and sustain health in our twenties, and that may change a few years after that or a whole decade after and so on. We may thrive on uniquely individualized meals for the rest of our lives but we must allow for change and let go of thinking there is only one way to make it work because it doesn’t work that way.

Especially when we are using our words or actions to make someone feel like a lesser being or in this case, a lesser yogi, simply because at this point in time, their own personal practice of ahimsa is to care for their bodies in a manner that is unique to them and that may not necessarily conform to your own paradigms of what the world is “supposed” to be like.

It is the act of belittling, verbally or even energetically abusing the other that is putting us in a position that breaks the rule (ahimsa in case I rambled and you lost your train of thought) to begin with. And it is with in this realm of rigidity that we need to remember to flow, ground down and remain open so as to not harm others with our own perspectives, opinions and internal decisions about our world.

Another really present example is the idea that all bodies should be able to perform the same asanas with the same instruction and in the same manner. This is ridiculous! – Every single body is made in a unique manner and each of us is going to need to approach each pose in a unique manner. Let us not forget that many moons ago, yoga was taught one on one, teacher to student and in many cases, hand in hand with Ayurvedic guidelines so as to allow each person to embark on a journey that way uniquely suited to their needs with in each moment of the developmental process. – So, sure, these days, us teachers have to try our very best to convey the most amount of clear information in a short amount of time, to a room filled with unique individuals who are all trying to move through a sequence or a class as a unit. Challenging? “Um; heck yeah” – but we can be of great assistance to our students or fellow practitioners by simply remembering that just because this pose has been taught with these verbal cues for x amount of years, does not mean that particular alignment will work for everyone in the room and expecting everyone to do the same things in their bodies without paying attention to the fact that, “Hey, you know what, this person will benefit more from an external rotation here instead of an internal rotation” or that “You know what, not everyone’s chaturanga lands them at a 90 degree angle while still maintaining the safe integrity of their shoulders”.

I walked into class one morning recently and was heart-broken to hear that another teacher’s rigid take on a back-bend and their insistence that my student effectuate the pose in exactly the manner she had described despite my student’s voiced concern that something felt off in that alignment had injured my student severely. And the truth is that I encounter this sort of thing all the time in yoga rooms across the country. The teacher will spot something on a person’s body that will not align with the many years of ‘traditionally’ sustained and practiced alignment and alignment cues, and they will (with good intentions, mind you) try to assist the student into the correct pose without really pausing to inquire what is causing the seeming disparity or even considering that, for example, maybe asking people to bring both knees together in hero’s pose is only going to work for some bodies and will absolutely wreck others.

I can’t even tell you how many times I have almost walked out of a class in recent years because the teacher had utilized a cue (and then a physical; “adjustment”) that A)When asked about the reason behind the anatomical cue can only stare and say, “that’s just how it’s done” or give some vague reason as to protect something or other that actually wouldn’t be affected in said pose or B)Insisted on forcing a person (myself included) into a particular shape in a particular manner that just wasn’t working just because that is how it must be done. But we refuse to acknowledge that there is still so much to learn in terms of anatomy and biomechanics where the practice is concerned.

We simply become rigid about traditions and cues utilized for years by other teachers and we never even pause to examine the reasons behind the cues, or the manner in which that movement is affecting the body. We become fixated on the fact that this is how it has been taught for many years and THAT is how it will continue being taught even if it makes no biomechanical sense, and now we have a myriad of yogis walking around with SI joint issues, torn labrums, meniscal tears, shoulder issues and so much more. All because we are rigidly adhering to an idea, a cue, and instruction or a tradition without testing it, researching it and/or even changing it. – I mean, seriously, guys, how hard is it to say, “You know, what, a few years back, our understanding of this posture was x, y and z and so we learned to cue and verbalize it as ‘blah’. But after doing some research and learning more about the body, we have realized that in fact, it may be better to do this and we can now cue it a little more like ‘bleh’ and now, try it and see how your body feels with the changes, what difference does it make?”, etc. – really; it is not that big a deal. It is an acknowledgement of change and growth and development. But if we refuse to let go of old, rigid paradigms, we may never be able to properly elevate any aspect of the practice or of our lives, and that is worrisome indeed.

The last example I will use here (because there are too many for just a short little blog) is the latest rigid trend of demanding that teachers not demo in a class. (Again, I can hear you raging and screaming, go back to the intention of the post and breathe) – I can definitely agree that constantly demoing during every class and especially if one has a very heavy load of classes, can be detrimental to the teacher’s body and will take away time from adjustments and assists in class. But I think that there has to be a balance here and that we need to remember that not all people learn in the same manner. Some people are intensely visual learners, and no matter how many times you repeat the same cue over and over and over again, they will not understand the cue unless they have seen it first. Particularly if it is a new pose, or they are new to class or even if you are a new teacher to them, as the will not be so accustomed to your particular tone, cues or verbalization all together.

Going beyond people who are visual learners, when it comes to moving our bodies, very few people actually have a close enough relationship with the self to even know what or where each of our body parts are so as to fully understand verbal cues. Think about it, how many times have you slammed your elbow against a door while just moving from point A to point B and how many times have you seen a look of utter confusion on a student’s face when all you asked them to do was bring their elbow to their knee; I mean, not every person has had years of dance or movement to fully understand any of these concepts, and a vast majority of people (in all kinds of movement classes, not just yoga) will have a really difficult time figuring out how to effect what the teacher has verbalized in their own bodies in a successful, present and safe manner.

And the truth is, that in today’s yoga world, most of the classes that are taught are unique and very few repeat the same sequence or poses over and over again, so it isn’t as though students can just memorize the sequence and move through the practice ala Mysore, where having a teacher at the front of the room demonstrating each pose would not be necessary at all. – So, think about the type of class you are in, the kinds of people, the amount of time you have spent with the group (sometimes just spending a few months together, students can begin to learn the teacher’s rhythm and the need for demos may decrease) and the level of understanding of the practice (advancement) and take all these factors into consideration when you are teaching. But haughtily stating that demoing is not adequate anymore, or that teachers who demo are inefficient, or that if you are a teacher who demos you do not know how to properly teach because anything you need to teach you should be able to verbalize without need to show the class, or that it is antiquated or unnecessary is rigid thinking of the kind we have been speaking of and can cause more harm than good. Particularly when used, as stated above, as a debilitating, humiliating separatist tool meant to show which teachers are “good” and which are “bad” based solely on a rigid point of view that offers no room for shift, flux or exemption.

Of course, these are just a few examples, as stated above, and they relate in this particular case to the yoga realm because this is the realm I displace myself in most often, but these truths can and should resonate with in each of us in all aspects of life (as all yoga should). Because we all have found ourselves at one point or another in time demeaning, looking down upon or even excluding someone solely based on the fact that their view of the world is distinct from ours, and therefore, must be completely wrong because our egos have taught us that there is only one right and one wrong and that only “I” hold the answers to all the questions and that only “my” view of things should be exacted at all times, because “I” am better by simply knowing that all that “I” do is proper and all “they” do is out of bounds, wrong, hateful, useless and unacceptable.

We all have our own paradigms, we all have chosen to give matter to only a select hand-full of values and items and ideals in this world, but that doesn’t mean that our way is the only way and it doesn’t mean that we are superior to others or must behave hatefully towards others simply because their own paradigms are distinct form ours. – And this rigidity is present in every aspect of our lives, form religion to yoga to what movies we deem good or not, to what exercises are “best” to what diet is “king” and the truth is, no single answer fits us all in the same way because none of us are the same person, we all grow at our own pace, experience things in our own way, make decisions on our own, chose to shape the world we live in in whatever shade we determine to and it is ok. We all have embarked on this journey and walk our path in our own way.

Stop trying to impose rigid beliefs on others, stop being so rigid in your own mind, body and soul, learn to flow and let go. And as my wise teacher said to me, “Take the stick out of your ass.”. ;-)