Friendship, Intention

Navigating Friendship and Yoga Practice

As with any group activity where a common interest is shared, a wave to a familiar face leads to an exchange of introductions, mat choices begin to creep closer together, and before you know it you’re practicing by newfound friends in class.

However this is yoga and it’s supposed to be about spiritually developing the union of the individual self with the universe, so where do friends fit in here?

About a year into my Vinyasa practice, I made friends with two ladies in their early fifties. They’re smart, hip, diverse, enjoy a good laugh, and above all we discovered a unique bond in sharing how yoga was transforming our lives in different ways.

As we became accustomed to practicing next to each other, one of the ladies (I’ll call her “Andee”) would tell me after class: “You have such an amazing practice!” “You can do everything.” “Wow – I saw you do X. Your practice is going really well!”

I’m a compliment fool. I like people who say nice things about me, and to me, so I was flattered she mentioned it but I also felt bad because I never noticed what either of my friends looked like when they practiced. I was in my own world and thought, Oh shoot! I’m being selfish and un-yogi-like. I should be supportive of them too.

In girlfriend-land when you’re at brunch/drinks/dinner and your gal(s) show up wearing a new outfit, says something clever, or looks glowingly gorgeous – of course you compliment her! It’s friendship and that’s what you’re supposed to do. Why would this be any different?

So I followed Andee’s lead and expanded my focus to include them, making sure to express when they achieved new and exciting things in class.

Subtly I started to observe when I flailed, and I knew I was in Andee’s line of sight, I’d struggle not to struggle. I didn’t want to ruin her perspective of my “amazing practice.” Or when I did something really good, I’d hope it would be mentioned after class.

Over the months that followed, I wasn’t leaving class with that relaxed buzz anymore. I left feeling much more like I did when I came in – erratic and in disorder, but I attributed all this to a phase that would probably pass.

Besides, I can’t leave my newfound friends and return to practicing as a solitary stranger. They’d be offended and I didn’t want to tarnish the relationship.

Until one day after a particularly hard class and I achieved an arm balance that Andee didn’t and she said, “When you’re young, your body really does more.”

Grrrr! I’ve worked for every inch of my practice; stretching before class and giving up countless nocturnal entertainment activities to stick with my dedicated yoga regimen. Andee’s been a witness to that discipline three times a week, almost every week for over a year and she wipes it all away with the excuse of my age??? When did this become a competition??

My first, un-evolved, non-yogi reaction was to say, “Fuck you!” I felt attacked and surprised by a betrayal of judgement.

In fact, “fuck you” is my normal, defensive reaction after an initial jab because once I’m pricked, I counter with a swift slice to someone’s jugular to protect myself against suffering additional harm. Although, from consistent use, I’ve found this phrase does not exactly elicit the most neutralizing response from people and since I’m aching to be a better person, I just nodded and made an excuse for a quick exit.

Later, as I tried to distance myself and my feelings from this situation, I wondered…if I was a good yogi with an ounce of compassion, what would make a fifty-something respond like this?

Maybe she regrets things she didn’t do when she was my age?

I’m not that evolved, and hours later (and after a few glasses of wine), that’s all I can come up with because skepticism is a tough shell of armor and for now that’s the only fleck of a chip that’s willing to come off. She’s not giving me an inch of credit, and I’m having a tough time being emotionally generous to her as well.

This also brings me back to my original question, Where do friends fit in with yoga?

There really aren’t any strict rules (and that’s what I like about it) but if there is one extremely strong suggestion, it’s to only look at yourself when you practice.

Practicing yoga is not a social event. Coming into a studio, and onto your mat, is a sacred space, a dedicated time to connect with the divinity within YOU. Whatever form a physical manifestation takes is a reflection of the present mind.

For those who go to class just for the workout, that might be different but true yogis are there to study themselves – only.

Now in hindsight, my ego pulled me off course for two reasons:

  1. Compliments and feeling a need to abide by society’s definition of friendship led me away from my original intention.
  2. I wasn’t leaving class in the most relaxed state because I was seeking outside approval and praise.

I consented to friendship joining me on my tiny mat, which is made to fit one person for a reason. It metaphorically defines a boundary for where focus should exist.

One day I hope to be that strong yogi who can fend off other people’s unconscious energies and drop back into my own space with ease, but I’m not there yet…

Thus, I’ve decided that practicing next to my “friends” isn’t contributing to where I envision my practice to be so I’m going to return to finding a place of anonymity. This isn’t a collaboration, or a competition, and if they’re true friends they’ll understand and our social activities, and sharing, can exist outside of the studio.

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