Without Compassion, There’s No Yoga in Your Asana

By Garth Hewitt

I remember practicing once with Sri Dharma when I first went to check out his classes about six years ago. It was a Master Class, but there were all levels of students in the room. Some of the students were very advanced –far more advanced than I. Some of the students were quite new and finding the class really challenging.

Sri Dharma loves to hold twisting extended side angle pose for a long time. We were holding this pose for a really long time at this class and there was a woman in the class who was having a really hard time maintaining her balance. She kept falling over and she was getting really upset and frustrated. She looked like she was on the verge of crying. You could feel that she was becoming very overwhelmed. My first reaction was to judge her. I’m embarrassed to share that with you. That was my first reaction, though. I remember thinking that she didn’t have any business coming to a Master Class when she was clearly a beginner. I was being such a selfish &$%-hole and I didn’t even realize it at the time.

Something amazing happened after that, that made me feel ashamed and made me re-think what I was doing on my yoga mat.

The regular Sri Dharma students around the woman started to encourage her and offer kind words. They let go of any focus on “their practice” and they focused on her and gave her their energy and attention. One of the students, in front of her, who had a very advanced asana practice, came out of his pose and walked over to her and helped her to find her balance. I heard him say, “It’s OK. This is a hard pose. You’re doing great.” Several students offered her their smiles and encouraging gestures. It was really beautiful to witness. I was blown away by the community and how everyone reached out to her. It almost made me cry.

I remember leaving the class and thinking about this moment for a long time. There was so much competition in the classes I was taking back in Los Angeles, so much ego. There was so much competition in my own practice, too, so much ego. This pursuit of asana, pursuing these fancy trick poses and advanced transitions. What was the point? I remember thinking after this class that these things aren’t yoga. Somehow, somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten off track; we’ve missed the point.

What happened in Sri Dharma’s Master class that day was yoga.

Sri Dharma always teaches that the number one practice is to be respectful and to be kind to all living beings. I’ve made many trips to New York now in the past six years and I’ve completed 800 hours of training with Sri Dharma. I’ve met so many incredible people through this community. Sure, there are some really advanced asana practitioners. Many of the people are way more advanced than me. Sri Dharma is a really advanced asana practitioner. The thing that I love so much about the Dharma community is that Sri Dharma teaches that the asana doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t moving through the world with kindness and love. The practice is so much more than just being able to do a fancy pose.

I was talking about Sri Dharma the other day, about the space that he creates in his classes. No competition in the room. This really wonderful community of students supporting each other, growing as a community, practicing as a community. One of my goals over the past six years has been to create this kind of space in my classes and encourage this same idea of community. A group of students coming together, connecting, supporting each other, growing, helping each other along the way.

Last week one of my students in one of our awesome communities (Westlake Village!!) was having a challenging time in a pretty tough class. This student sometimes leaves class when it gets too tough for her. I’ve encouraged her to stay and just come down and rest, to not give up on herself, but this is a habit that’s been hard for her to break. Sometimes when the going gets tough, she heads for the door.

When she got up to leave in the middle of this class, due to where I was standing in the room, she had to walk right past me on her way to the door. She tried not to look at me as she went by. I stopped instructing the class. I smiled at her and said, “Come on. You can stay. You can do this. You don’t have to leave. Come on.”

She stopped and the whole class looked at her. There was a long moment where we all waited to see what she was going to do. Then something amazing happened. Everyone started to encourage her to stay. They started to smile and tell her it was OK. That she would be fine.

People said things like, “You can do it!” and “Stay, we’ll do it with you!” There was so much love in the room. It overwhelmed her and she smiled and went back to her mat to stick it out and finish the class.

This was one of the most special moments for me ever as a teacher. I watched this really strong group of students, mostly regulars, who’ve been coming to class for a while now together practicing yoga. I watched these guys, not just doing asana, but practicing yoga and I was so proud of them as a teacher.

After the class, I talked to my student who had given up on herself and asked her if she felt good that she had stayed for the whole class and she said she had never felt so much love from a group of people in a class before. Powerful stuff.

Be kind and respectful to others. Love. Open your heart. Help someone who needs help. These are the greatest things that we can teach to our students. Thank you, Sri Dharma, for teaching me about what really matters. These are the great moments we get to experience as teachers and why I love my job so much! Thank you for letting me hold the space and passing on the teaching of my teachers.

 

IMG_5642Garth Hewitt is a 500hr E-RYT, Teacher Trainer, Yoga Therapist, Certified Yogaworks Teacher, Certified Dharma Yoga Teacher, and has led classes, workshops, retreats and teacher trainings in Los Angeles and around the world. Garth taught for several years at the original Yogaworks in Santa Monica and at Exhale – The Center for Sacred Movement in Venice.  He led the first Pure Yoga Teacher Training, in Los Angeles, at Equinox, with Ashley Turner.  He has been featured in and contributes regularly to: Yoga Journal, Men’s Health Magazine, Mantra Magazine, Yoganonymous and LA Yoga.  He has spent time in Mysore, India, studying Ashtanga Yoga, with the Sri K. Patthabi Jois family, practicing with Saraswati Jois. Garth teaches integrated yoga classes, focusing on; alignment, breath and concentration. He also teaches: pranayama, meditation, yoga nidra and sees students privately for yoga therapy sessions.