"The weirdest part is when people compliment my practice afterwards or express that they wish they could breath/vinyasa/balance or whatever like I do. I never know what to say."
Well, here are a few possible responses you can give when somebody says something like "You have a beautiful practice":
(1) "Thank you": This is my default response. It's probably the safest response, especially if you don't know the complimenter well, and don't want to risk saying something that may offend the complimenter's sensibilities or worse, make you look like a weirdo (Actually, I'm not sure which is worse, but this is not the time and place to debate this).
If you are so inclined, you can also return the compliment ("You have a beautiful practice too!"). But in order for your compliment to be genuine, you would have had to be watching the complimenter's practice during your practice, which would make you guilty of committing drishti violations, putting you at risk of being hauled in by the Ashtanga Police for questioning and possible stripping of your Ashtanga Powers :-)
The Ashtanga Police
(Image taken from here)
On the other hand, if you weren't actually watching the complimenter's practice, you then risk being disingenuous, and thereby being guilty of violating Satya, or Truthfulness (which might also put you at risk of being hauled in for questioning by the Ashtanga Police). Quite a dilemma, don't you think? :-)
(2) Turn this into a teaching moment: Megan thought about doing this. She writes:
'The teacher in me wants to give a mini-lecture on how all of that is beside the point and that strength and grace only comes as a by-product of years of dedication to the practice... but I know that's not what they want to hear so I usually just smile and say, "Thanks."'
This is a socially dicey response, as Megan realizes. Most people do not expect or want to be given a lecture on what the practice is or is not about in response to what they see as a simple compliment. I've actually given such a response in the early days of my practice before. The complimenter responded by putting on an awkward smile as I launched into my mini-lecture. About two sentences into the lecture, I saw her eyes starting to glaze over and start panning the horizon for a possible escape route. So, unless you actually are the teacher in the shala, giving such a response puts you at risk of becoming a social pariah.
(3) Be an asana-geek, and launch into a mini-lecture about how to work up to such-and-such-posture: This is only applicable if your complimenter actually goes into certain specifics in her compliments ("You have such a beautiful jump-back!", "Oh, when will I ever be able to get into X-asana!"). Unfortunately, this is also a socially dicey response. Again, in the early days of my practice, I have also given this response, and in most cases, I get the same kind of response as (2). Moral of the story: Most people do not expect or want to be confronted by an asana-geek in response to what they see as a simple compliment.
(4) The Outlandish Response: "Yeah, you know why my practice is so beautiful? Because I am actually a very well-preserved thousand-year-old yogi from the Himalayas. I taught Ramamohan Brahmachari. What, you never heard of him? Well, he's Krishnamacharya's guru. Which makes me Krishnamacharya's Parama-guru. Which makes me Guruji's Parapara-guru. Which makes me your Parameshti-guru! Speaking of which, why aren't you prostrating yourself at my lotus feet? Don't you want my blessings?"
I have often fantasized about giving this response; to date, I have yet to work up the guts to actually say this to anybody. I would really love to see the expression on somebody's face after I say this (well, maybe I don't...).
Well, at any rate, these are a few possible responses to "You have a beautiful practice" that I can think of. If you have any others, I would love to hear them. Do you have any reasons for preferring one response to another? If you do, I would love to hear them too.
In other news: I am going to Matthew Sweeney's upcoming workshop at the Yoga House in Minneapolis from July 22nd to July 28th. I won't be at the whole workshop; I will be at the Sunday sessions and the four-day Mysore practice from Monday to Thursday. If you are still deciding on your vacation plans, why not think about coming to this workshop? I know very little about Sweeney, but have heard great things, and look forward to learning as much as I can. Maybe if you also come to the workshop, you can come up to me after practice and tell me I have a beautiful practice! Then I will finally have a chance to try out response (4) on you :-)