Starting with this funny quote from former Yankee’s catcher and clown Yogi Berra because it’s quite pertinent to the yoga process. AND I now have this policy of starting everything I do with a joke of some sort. I partly got this from something I learned when I was studying the Talmud in Jerusalem—it was about how this one rabbi always began his talks with a joke. And more recently, I’ve been very influenced by A Course in Miracles, which says that this whole mess began because someone forgot to laugh. Clearly jokes are great icebreakers—for you if no one else—so I commend this to you!
So let’s take the first part of the Yogi Berra quote: “Baseball is ninety percent mental…” and let’s just change one little word: “Yoga is ninety percent mental…” Yep, it sure is, let’s drop our preconceptions about what yoga is. It’s not just stretching, hopefully we’re clear on this by now! There’s a psycho-spiritual dimension of yoga that is unmistakable. In fact, it is actually the case that it is the very foundation of yoga, and the physical part is secondary and came later. Actually, we could even further and say that ultimately it’s all mental, if you understand the Mind in a more cosmic sense, but we’ll get to that later (maybe much later)!
Now, that said, Yogi Berra’s quote goes on: “…and the other half is physical.” It’s funny because his numbers don’t add up, and we’re not sure if he’s trying to say that baseball is mainly a mental game, or is it half mental, half physical? I think he really did mean to say it’s ninety percent mental, and 10% physical, and on this he’s in good company. I believe it was Thomas Alva Edison who said, “Genius is ninety percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration.” Or was it Tesla ; ) And there is this saying I really love: “Showing up is ninety percent of the battle.” Sometimes I add to this, Yogi (Berra)-like: “And the other half is putting in the work!”
So let’s just take the idea that yoga is primarily a mental discipline. What does this mean? It means many things, but for our purposes right here, let’s just say it means that it is a process of getting more and more in touch with your mind. Perhaps you’ve heard the idea that who we are is much more than just the physical. The image that is often given is that of an iceberg, the majority of which is submerged below the surface of the ocean. That’s like what we’re talking about. Most of us are not fully in touch with our minds yet, because we have not been introduced to a discipline like yoga that points you in that direction. Yoga is in fact primarily about mental training. A Course in Miracles says of itself at one point: “This is a course in mind training.”
If you were only to get one thing out of this training, it would be this: You have a body, but you are not your body. You are not your mind either, except in the greater sense of Mind that is dreaming up this physical experience. I don’t mean to be dogmatic about this, just to present this as an open possibility for us to explore together. At the very least, and something which I feel we can all agree upon, is the idea of “ego.”
The ego manifests itself in the ongoing mental chatter that, when we tune into it, is constantly running and running interference with our “peace of mind.” It’s the proverbial “monkey mind” that never ceases, and comes in all of the negative self-talk with which we are so familiar that we think our thoughts are who we are. To this yoga says, no, who you are is beyond the “ego-mind,” all of these thoughts. And the process of yoga is the process of consciously dissolving this ego-mind to reveal our true Self, just as the sun is revealed when the clouds obscuring it are removed.
But let’s get down to the basic question and bottom line here: How do I mentally prepare for yoga teacher training? First, by relaxing — you’ll do great, and you have nothing to worry about! If you are stressing out, you are missing the point, and there really is nothing to stress out about anyway. Connected to that, the other thing I would say is to repeat that quote again about how showing up is 90% of the battle. Yes, all you really need to do is get out of bed, in your clothes, out the door and to class, that’s all! The rest will take care of itself. Just come and be present, and all else will follow. Finally, be prepared to “empty your cup” and leave your past learning and judgments at the door. Be open to new possibilities and don’t let fear get in the way of thinking differently and trying new things. In this regard, we might say that the only “mental” that yoga is decidedly not is “judgmental.”
Two final potent quotes, the first from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And one from my teacher, Sri Karunamayi, the Mother of Compassion, who gave the answer to Lao Tzu with these words: “If you come one step toward me, I will come a thousand steps toward you.”
So like your shoes, leave that ego at the door and begin taking the baby steps on the thousand mile journey back home. And… welcome home!