I was raised in a Pentecostal fire and brimstone type church. Like Hanuman was a perfect devotee of Rama, my mother was the perfect servant of the church. I was raised thinking that devotion was rewarded. And indeed, in that little church in Alabama, it was.
When I was a little girl, we used to sing a song that was derived from Matthews 25:23, “well done good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things:enter thou into the joy of the lord.” This message, that I would be rewarded for my good deeds, set me on a path of wanting validation.
Of course I carried this need into my yoga practice. I craved the validation of getting new poses. I craved the self validation I gave myself when my body opened up after months of hard work. I loved the validation I would get when a teacher told me I was doing a good job or that I was strong.
Going to Mysore was the culmination of 15 years of practice. I wanted validation there too. It didn’t happen. Sharath did not say “well done. I see you have practiced a long time.” It was just day after day after day of zero feed back. Zero validation. The few times Sharath did say something about my practice resulted in confusion. His broken English and terse phrases did not quench my thirst for validation the way my teacher’s lengthy discourses did. He didn’t give me any new poses until a week or so before I left. My validation monster rode that high for a couple of days and then plummeted back to earth. Like a drug addict, i needed the validation fix to keep me going. I couldn’t even give it to myself. I had been doing primary for 15 years. Though I am still growing in Primary, the big shifts that occurred when I first started, were no longer happening. When you are an addict, you need bigger and badder drugs to get your fix. I needed big shifts to feel validation. I had no choice. Like an addict on lock down, I was in a validation desert. I had no choice but to come to terms with my addiction to validation.
Without words, Sharath taught me about myself. He showed me what I needed to work on. It was not the lesson I wanted. I wanted to learn about asana. He gave me what I needed, not what I wanted.
The tradition of yoga is full of stories of powerful beings who did highly disciplined yogic practices for validation or to receive gifts. Ravana, the demon of the Ramayana, received his power from the gods by performing the acts of a good devotee. Yet, he wreaked so much havoc that Rama was sent to get rid of him.
These stories illustrate that just because someone appears to have an amazing yoga practice, it does not mean that they are a good person. It does not mean that the yoga has fully taken root in the heart. Yogic discipline can be an egoic event.
True devotees do not need validation. Devotion is an act of love. This is important because the practice of yoga leads to objectless samadhi. In objectless samadhi, everything is one. There is no other to get validation from or to give it to. Practicing yoga as an act of love is priming us for this state. Need will always pull us out of samadhi. This is why samadhi is temporary. The needs of the body pulls the yogi out of it. The more needs we have, the further away we are from oneness.
Discipline for validation works as long as we are getting validation. What happens when your teacher focuses on the new students? What happens when you are not getting new poses? What happens when your own body is not even giving you validation and you feel stuck? What happens when your teacher starts apprenticing new teachers and giving them tasks you thought were yours? How is your discipline now? Are you a good person now?
What happens after you get the validation? Who are you once you get the boon? Who are you when the celebrity hits? What happens when all the opportunities start rolling in? How do you behave once you get that pose or series you have been working on? How do you behave once you get the authorization or certification? Do you you become like Ravana, the powerful ego maniac demon scourge of the realm, or does your tapas continue?
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.