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Just doing yoga isn’t enough to make you a spiritual being.

I was in class the other day with an experienced yogi from a different tradition. It was her first Bikram yoga class and from the moment she walked in it was clear she wanted to prove she was beyond this. She rolled her eyes at instructions and when asked to correct her grip she simply refused. She did completely different postures when she didn’t like the ones the class was doing. She kept glaring at the teacher defiantly as she stood sideways on her mat.

I tried my best to focus on my own practice but the sharp, loud sighs from directly behind me were hard to ignore.

After class as we all sat, happily sweaty on benches in the lobby, this student got in my teacher’s face, pointed her finger inches from her eyes and yelled something nasty at her before storming out and slamming the yoga studio door.

It’s OK if you don’t like this practice. It’s OK if you come from other traditions and think this one is bullshit because it’s different from yours. But when you go to a yoga studio, you are agreeing – for 90 minutes – to play by their rules, even if they flatly contradict the way you learned it. (I’ve gone to many yoga studios that use props and forbid you to lock a knee. It felt weird, but I did it.)

But mostly, there is no excuse for treating another human being like that.

It’s not just the cute shorts that make someone a yogi. It’s the ability to embrace the present moment, even if the grip in Standing Bow is not what you are used to. It’s the ability to feel compassion and see value in things you might not completely understand. It’s about making others feel that they are seen and valued.

Spiritual work is hard work; work that is frustrating and often less than rewarding. You can feel like Sisyphus pushing that damn rock up the mountain.

If it were easy, everyone would be walking around like Thich Nhat Hanh.

An awesome Balancing Stick is meaningless if you are a jerk. It’s great to let asana practice be your first step towards a kinder, gentler, more empathetic and understanding version of your higher self. Just don’t let it be the last.

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