Have you ever been called a control freak? I have. It’s not my favourite term in the world, but I can hardly argue with it when it’s used as a descriptor for my approach to life. Those closest to me would agree that I like things to be done a certain way – I’m just a straight edge, all-or-nothing kind of gal. Since I’ve been teaching yoga I’ve come to realise that, far from being in the minority, I’m actually in pretty plentiful company when it comes to being a highly strung individual trying to get her yoga on. This week I taught a daily yoga retreat to a group of high school boys, and once again I was reminded of the overwhelming public perception that ‘yoga is relaxing’ and ‘yoga people are relaxed’. Since I’m the first to admit that I struggle to let go and relinquish control in daily life, I thought I’d unpack this myth a little, and share some of my ‘control freak’ insights in the process.
Now, the first thing to keep in mind is that lovers of control can be exceptionally well-camouflaged. We often don’t appear outwardly stressed, anxious or worried. If we appear calm, it’s because everything is going according to our master plan! We are experts at getting all our proverbial ducks in a row, and as long as everything is running smoothly, we’re as happy as Larry. We’re not big fans of surprises, though – and it’s when we lose the ability to ‘stay on top’ of things that we can begin to lose our cool a little. One of my personal experiences of this was on a recent Advanced Teacher’s Immersion with my gorgeous friends and teachers, Om People Yoga (collectively made up of the wonderful Irene Ais, Mark Pheely, and Josh Blau). A group of us headed off to an ashram in Daylesford together to practice, learn and deepen our understanding of yoga. Having never embarked on a course like this before, I naturally wanted to know exactly what was going to happen, and exactly when, ahead of time. When I enquired as to the daily timetable, I was met with the response, ‘It’s a surprise – you’ll find out tomorrow’. Now, keep in mind that I am the person who starts packing her suitcase two weeks before an overseas trip. When it comes to choosing a movie on Netflix, I tend to gravitate towards films I’ve already seen, because I know I’ll enjoy them (eep, I am actually the worst)! Therefore, waiting until the next day to discover how I’d be spending my time was a very foreign concept to me – and although I’m not proud of it, I’ll admit that it led to a moment of mild panic.
The next morning came, and we all rolled up to the yoga shala fresh-faced and ready to embrace the (as yet unknown) challenges and lessons of the new day. And once the daily timetable was written up on the board, a funny thing happened – precisely, nothing happened at all. There was no fallout from my not knowing in advance exactly what we were going to be doing that day. I realised then that my desire to control any future outcome by gaining prior knowledge of a situation was totally pointless. The lesson was clear: aparigraha. Non-attachment. While there’s nothing wrong with being organised and prepared, we also must remember that living in the moment is essential to our experience of yoga. By keeping our daily schedule under wraps until it actually mattered, my teachers were giving me a gigantic reminder to stay present. (Henceforth, if I ever hold a retreat, the schedule will be….you guessed it!...A total mystery. Cue evil laugh.)
I recently shared with my significant other my favourite thing about practicing yoga. It’s not the same favourite thing that I held dear a year ago, or three years ago, and I’m sure it will change again in the future. But for now, my favourite thing about yoga is this: it is the only area of my life in which I am comfortable not knowing. Through meditation, pranayama and asana I embark on journeys of which I know not the final destination. I often end up somewhere completely different to where I intended to go. So, take a word of advice from this control freak, and try letting go every once in a while. After all, who’s really in control, anyway?