Tonight I went to a mixed Level 1/Level 2 yoga class for the first time. I was expecting that it would be a combination of 1 and 2 students, but soon after class began, it became clear that it was mostly 2 students, and some even more advanced than that. Immediately, my inner critic piped up. Just who do you think you are, trying to do yoga with all these experienced yogis? and You're such an imposter! As we moved into the first vinyasa, I felt a small twinge of panic rising in my chest, and briefly considered faking illness and leaving.
But I didn't. I stayed. I stayed in the class and I stayed with my breath. I stayed with the negative thoughts I was having, acknowledging the thoughts, but granting them neither credibility nor resistance. As I continued to breathe and work through the poses, it occurred to me that I was consciously detaching my thoughts from my reality, a concept that my favorite yoga teacher often discusses in the opening or closing meditation. I can recognize these negative thoughts, and I can stay and do the class anyway, because the thoughts are just thoughts. They're not real. The yoga is real. My breath is real. My presence in this class tonight is real. The thoughts can't touch that. It was a pretty powerful realization, and as I moved through the various poses, I felt my mind stop racing and become quiet and still. It was just me and the mat.
The funny part is, I actually did just fine. I mean, my Chaturanga wasn't as deep as some of the others, and I definitely took a not-very-graceful tumble out of Crow pose. But, overall, it really wasn't a big deal. My brain had tried to make it into a big deal, but it wasn't. By the end of class, the voice of my inner critic was a faint (and, frankly, pretty silly-sounding) echo.
I know that one of the major tenets of Buddhism is that enlightenment can be explained as the liberation from our thoughts. And, conversely, that pain is caused by the blurring of our thoughts and our reality - an inability to distinguish between what is real and what is simply a manifestation of our various thought patterns. I can't call myself a practicing Buddhist (or practicing anything, for that matter), but I think I'm beginning to witness the basic truth of this principle in my life, in a new and exciting way. I definitely witnessed it tonight, and it's something I'd like to cultivate further.
What about you? Have you had a similar experience?