I’m Going To Stop Popping The Question

by Jeff McMahonI’m going to stop asking the question most often asked of yogis after an asana class: “How was class?”
I’ve asked this question hundreds of times to hundreds of yogis, because it seems harmless enough a question to ask. We might even think of it as a caring question. We want you to be happy, we want you to have a good class, we want to find inspiring classes ourselves, so… how was class?
But I’ve come to believe that question doesn’t do anyone any good, and it may even do us some harm.
Proscriptions on language are annoying and ineffective—often they result in banned words with no understanding of the reason. So instead of just saying “bad question!” let’s ponder this question.
When we ask, “How was class?” we shift a yogi’s mind from any stillness they may have found during class back to the chatter of evaluation and judgment.
Grammatically, the class is the subject of the sentence, the element about which the question is predicated. So the question assumes a class is an objective experience (“Class was .”), which it cannot be, and too often the answer is an evaluation of teacher or setting, as if external objects could be responsible for our success or failure in realizing our self.
Really we can only describe our own experience. If we were happy, the happiness occurred within. If we were frustrated, the frustration occurred within. If we were angry, the anger occurred within.
That understanding—that the emotions occur within, as disturbances obscuring the bliss that resides within—is central to the teachings of yoga. We cannot find happiness in external objects because happiness resides within. We cannot praise others for our love, or blame them for our heartbreak, because love and heartbreak reside within.
If we are yogis, we know thought creates our experience of reality.
We know this, and yet we still ask, “How was class?”
So doesn’t this question undermine yoga?—by catering, however innocently, to the idea that the external is responsible for our internal experience.
But what about those classes that seem to be good or bad? What can we say about that gifted teacher whose cueing and sequencing and presence and voice help us to slip so easily into ourselves?
Just that: My practice has an affinity for that teacher.
And what of the teacher who disturbs our mind stuff, plays death metal in a sweat lodge, climbs on our backs like a monkey when we’re in tree pose?
That’s a challenge. My practice was challenged by that teacher.
Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Even when a class proves challenging in ways we seem unable to appreciate, we can modify any class to suit our practice: we can work on the bandhas, on pranayama, on ahimsa. We can practice these while riding the bus, so it must be possible to practice them in a yoga studio.
If we have been practicing for any time at all, we have had challenging experiences in classes that other students found blissful. We have had challenging experiences in the company of teachers who command an enthusiastic following. What more evidence do we need that our experience is internally determined? Each individual has a different experience—at least until we get together, ask “how was class?” and dream up a consensus evaluation.
So the next time I see you emerging from class, please remind me to ask you about it this way:
“How was your practice?”
After class, my teacher Kristen Angileri always asks, “How do you feel?”
I like that question even better.
Then you will know by the question that I’m asking you about your individual, internal experience, instead of perpetuating the delusion that the external world determines that experience.

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