Q: Some yoga teachers begin class by asking us to devote our practice to someone else. I started taking yoga to learn how to relax and to better deal with my stress. How does it help me to "devote" my practice to someone other than myself? And what should that feel like?<br><i>—Lynn Brandli, Atlanta, Georgia</i>
I like to invite students to come to a place of metta—a Pali term (maitri in Sanskrit) from the Theravada school of Buddhism that means "universal lovingkindness." During a quiet, conscious moment of dedication, I ask my students to think of a person in their life who is troubled or is facing some form of hardship (emotional, mental, or physical) and to begin the practice by sending thoughts of love and healing to that individual.
This is part of the practice because,
simply put, yoga is about connecting. At first, it might be a connection with the breath, or a place of stillness, or maybe with how the breath and body move in unison. But then, over time and with practice and intention, we can begin to develop
a deeper sense of altruism, of selfless giving, which is so vital to the bhakti experience, the yogic path of love and devotion. To me, there's no reason that this kind of work should be separate from the sacred mat practice. After all, the yoga mat is a microcosm of our entire life. What better place to shift our intention toward a greater good?
All beings deserve happiness and freedom from suffering—even people we may have difficulty understanding or those with whom we strongly disagree. Cultivate this powerful tool to let go of anger, fear, and insecurity.
What should it feel like? Like a deep exhalation. Like love. Like a soft kiss to your forehead. Something like that. We all come to the mat loaded with our own issues, full of expectations, desires, and physical goals we wish to achieve. But what if we could trust that whatever brought
us to the mat will be fulfilled? What if we could reach a bit beyond the exercise and the stress relief, and find something a little more profound, a bit more universal? I mean, why not?
My hope is that we can expand our collective consciousness and move out of the self-absorption that seems to dominate our culture and nurture a connection among all beings. After all, we already train our minds and our bodies. Maybe now it's time to train our hearts.
Rusty Wells teaches Bhakti Urban Flow yoga classes in San Francisco. His workouts aim to help students open their hearts of compassion. He also travels to spread his message of love and devotion.