The Compassion Gap

by Sjanie McInnis
I love feeling good.  It’s the best.  Some of my most pleasant experiences have been on the yoga mat.   And yet I often have to remember to pay the good feelings forward, in the form of behaving kindly.  There's a gap between my individual sensation of yoga and the compassionate mandate of yoga, and I call that the "compassion gap."

I am always looking at the yoga environment itself:  its interests and obsessions, its rhetoric, and its perils.  In the last couple of years, I started to see slogans and hashtags about bliss and love; when I began to practice I heard much more regarding discipline and focus.

I believe that once the yoga community transitioned in its emphasis on service to feeling, something more grand was lost.  I was actually relieved at the time that it happened because I felt so burdened by being better, doing more, serving more:  these all seemed like heavy weights to carry, and honestly I just wanted to feel pleasant and healthy and move without pain.  I believe that pleasure can have a broader benefit in our society, and should not be shunned, but pleasure is morally neutral, and I now observe that the pleasurable feelings hatha yoga brings don't always manifest in our social and relational choices.

I love feeling good, but I’m going to run into problems when my good feelings take priority over the health and welfare of others.  Sometimes it’s hard to hear from a friend who is depressed or ill, or to deal with the concerns of my parents or children:  it doesn’t feel good, and if feeling good is my priority I would discount their needs in favor of my own.

To bridge the compassion gap, I try to remember that pleasure, bliss, and love are not the only goals of yoga. If those were the only goals, I am sure I could find something more fun to do.  On the contrary, the tradition of yoga understands relationships and social fabric as the premise of the work.  I encourage all teachers and practitioners to consider their responsibility in closing the gap.
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About the Author

Sjanie guides voices and bodies in Vancouver, Canada.  She is primarily interested in using yoga as a way to get friendly humans in rooms together so they can figure out how to end unnecessary suffering and help the environment. Her twins keep this interest very close to her heart.  Connect with her here.