Image of a heart with a Leonard Cohen quote

All minds quote

We humans like to quote. Quotations are so much part of our everyday lives. They can be heart-warming, wry, funny, or poignant.

We yoga teachers especially like to use quotations in our teaching to inspire ourselves and our students. 

I’ve wondered though, if we quote others, does that take away from our own originality? This is what Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century American philosopher, says in his essay Quotation and Originality:

All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands. By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote.

In trying to be more original, occasionally I’ll quote from one of my books: Teach Yourself Yoga or The Art of Adjustment. 

Some of these quotations from Teach Yourself Yoga are more like quips:

A dog pose a day keeps the chiropractor at bay.

Some are slightly less quippy, such as:

Eat with gratitude. It’s a great digestive. 

And, some of my quotations, I like to think, might be considered downright profound. Here’s some advice for those who are just learning to do home yoga practice:  

In practising yoga, you are building up a muscle for taking care of yourself on all levels–body, mind and spirit. In the beginning especially, you have to work at it, but the rewards are great. Persevere.

So, why we don’t make up our own quotable quips? Why do we rely on celebrity or guru quotes, which are sometimes misquotes or misattributed)?

Yoga teachers-in-training tend to spout their teachers’ words exactly when they begin teaching. I still do. My Iyengar teacher from the eighties, Martyn Jackson, pops up in my classroom instructions on occasion. As do more recent influencers, like Donna Farhi or Judith Laseter.

As yoga teachers become more seasoned, they fashion their own phrasing. And then, their quips, quotations and word pictures will undoubtedly plant find their way into the next generation’s repertoire.

My favourite quotations

Last year I contributed three of my favourite quotes to a yoga publication, as well as an explanation about why they were meaningful to me. 

The first one is a quotation whose message I try to embody. It’s from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. It features the Monkey God, Hanuman, speaking to Rama:

When I don’t know who I am, I serve you.

When I know who I am, I am you.

What is that appeals to me about these words? They get to the heart of the matter, the reason for doing yoga, evolving towards freedom. If I am caught in my ego state, I am a servant to you or any other person. But if I am in my authentic self, I know there is no difference between you and me. I am free.

Pema Chodran, the Buddhist nun, is eminently quotable, as in this succinct bit of wisdom:

You are the sky. Everything else–it’s just the weather.

This quote is simple, it rings true and it also gets to the heart of the matter. Change is a constant. But you are pure awareness, which is unchanging. It’s bigger than the movement of the clouds scuttling in the open sky.

And finally, also from Pema Chodran:

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.

It’s not surprising if you know me that I would be inspired by a quote about living and dying. As I’ve aged, I’ve thought more about life and death. Dealing with my ego has often shown up for me as a struggle to let go.

Pema is saying, if I understand her, that we need to be dying into living–out of the nest into ‘no-man’s land’. Perhaps the corollary is true: we need to be living into dying–awake until our last act of letting go.

I’d love to hear from you what your favourite quotes are and how they may help you steer your life.