"Pain is stubbing your toe—suffering is what the ego mind does with the experience of stubbing your toe."
Please share a favorite quote of yours.
– Darren Main
“Pain is your best friend. It is infinitely more honest with you than pleasure. Despite what you might think, the painful experiences you have had benefit you far more than the pleasurable ones, even though most of us spend our lives trying to duck and hide from them. But when you can center yourself and be open to look pain in the eye, then you have transcended the limits of your ego and this humanity. It is then that you enter into the possibility of becoming a great being.”
Please introduce yourself.
My yoga practice, like the practice of almost every person who has ever rolled out a yoga mat was rooted in suffering. My life had become utter chaos that was loosely held together on a thread of drug abuse and other unhealthy behaviors. While my story is different from just about every other story out there, I have come to see that my story is not at all unique.
For me, my work as a yoga teacher is deeply rooted in the firm belief that suffering is wholly unnecessary if you develop a practice such as yoga to become a refuge in difficult times. Through everything I do, but in particular, through my teaching and writing, it is my hope that I can help people find a refuge within themselves by learning to celebrate the body, quiet the mind and open the heart.
How would you describe your style of teaching? What is one thing you bring to your class that is uniquely you?
I teach a number of styles of yoga including flowing hatha yoga, restorative yoga, gentle yoga, meditation and yogic breathing. For me, while they are all very different in style, they are really all the same thing because I like to emphasize the idea of dancing at the edge of comfort and expanding that edge so that when life squeezes us with difficult postures that we must hold, we are much better equipped to sit in that intensity without reacting or turning to unhealthy habits in a feeble attempt to escape discomfort.
As someone who has trained many teachers, what is one surprising change that you notice in your trainees by the time they finish their training program?
Almost without exception, students who enter a teacher training program expecting one thing will come out the other side with something entirely different. Some enroll to deepen their practice and go on to teach, other have dreams of becoming the next great teacher only to find that their dharma is in another profession. Some come to the training with the belief that they want to teach a very active practice and leave with a passion for restorative yoga. I would say the only constant is that no one leaves with what they expected, but they almost always leave in the absolute perfect place.
On your website you share openly about your life journey. One of the major themes you discuss is that of surrendering. This is generally counter-intuitive in our fast-paced culture where our reaction to an obstacle is usually to fight it, and "be strong" while the notion of surrendering can come off as weak or passive. Can you tell us more about what surrendering means to you?
Surrender is not approaching life from a posture of weakness, but rather from a posture of unimaginable strength. When we surrender the demands of our ego we make peace with what is and clear the mind so that we can make decisions about what the future might be from a place of order and clarity. Most people suffer because they try to fight the wind rather than leaning to surrender to the fact that the wind is going to blow. Through the clarity that surrender brings, we not only learn to be at peace with the wind, but also learn to raise our sails.
Why is it ok for yoga and business to mingle and what's the difference between commercialism & capitalism?
I define yoga as "the joining together of that which is perceived to be separate." The ego loves to separate things—body and mind, soul and creator, spirit and matter. In our modern world, there is no place in which the ego has more fun that that of business. Either you are a ruthless businessman or starving spiritual seeker. A true yogi shields nothing from burning light of awareness that yoga ignites within our minds. Much as we want to separate marketing and mediation, that is very much not what yoga demands of a true seeker.
Part of the issue is with the stink associated with capitalism. This is of course unfair because the law of supply and demand is as real in the relative world as the law of cause and effect. So many so-called capitalists have given the system a black eye by creating a false demand called commercialism.
In commercialism, millions of dollars are spent to convince people that they need cans of cola, eye shadow and expensive gadgets in order to be happy—lies that are toxic to the soul. The need for health, healing and spiritual wellbeing are all very real. The yoga teacher who can supply a genuine answer to those basic human needs is not manufacturing them; she is simply supplying a very effective tool for fulfilling them. This is the difference between commercialism and true capitalism.
Oftentimes when talking to a teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, your name will come up for one reason or another (Darren helped me find this job, etc.). As someone who has become a powerful connector, how do you view the role of community in yoga? What does creating community enable?
The whole notation of competition in the yoga world is rooted in insecurity. There is a saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears, but I believe the opposite is also true. There are people out there just waiting for the right teacher- someone who speaks to them the way no other teacher can. When we help other teachers grow, we help the community grow. The result is never smaller classes or a diminished paycheck.
If every teacher were to spend 10% more time thinking about how they could support their fellow teachers, the result would be a lot of happy yoga students, and a whole lot more yoga teachers paying the rent while sharing the practice they love. The key, however, is to approach yoga from a posture of abundance rather than scarcity- and that is a posture that can be far more difficult than hanumanasana!
What is a challenge you face as an experienced teacher that may not be evident to newer teachers? How do you work to address this challenge?
The more we put ourselves out there, the more people have unrealistic expectations about who we are. The fact that I have been teaching for nearly twenty-five years doesn't make me more enlightened or more evolved than the next teacher. At best it has made me view myself in a more realistic light because I have had so many opportunities to stumble and fall under the weight of my own arrogance.
I think I'm a better teacher today, not because I'm more enlightened, but rather because I have been humbled by life and tempered by the fires of an extended yoga practice. Today I'm simply much more aware of my amazing capacity to screw things up and in that awareness I occasionally find the wisdom to avoid those pitfalls. Unfortunately a lot of yoga students see years of practice as being synonymous with enlightenment—a recipe for real disappointment.
About the Author
Darren Main is a yoga and meditation instructor and author. His books include Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, Spiritual Journeys along the Yellow Brick Road, Inner Tranquility, The Yogi Entrepreneur and Hearts and Minds: Talking to Christians about Homosexuality.
He facilitates workshops and gives talks on yoga and modern spirituality throughout the United States and abroad and is the host of the internationally syndicated podcast Inquire Within. He currently resides in San Francisco.