Yoga in the West developed from the work done by the Indian yoga masters. Many of them were faced with a familiar problem to most spiritual teachers, how to reach an audience unfamiliar with meditative practices? The way chosen by most was to focus on virtuosic asanas. The type of poses which go for the wow factor. It proved very effective in generating interest and all of us who practice today owe a debt to these early pioneers. The implicit promise was: do yoga and you too can do these amazing poses. However, what they forget to mention is that virtuoso poses are the realm of the few. In much the same way, there are very few violinists of Nigel Kennedy’s ability, so there are few yoga practitioners who can do the really difficult poses. And the ones who can, have done many years of preparation as well as having the fortune to be born with a body with an extraordinary range of movement.
The practice of focussing on the most difficult poses and calling the ability to do difficult poses an advanced practice has caused a lot of problems for yoga teachers. On the one hand, it has drawn people to the practice. On the other hand, it has generated unrealistic expectations and has lead to many yoga practices being less enjoyable than they otherwise might be. Very few students think about what the pose requires and what preparation needs to be done before attempting it. Most just show up to the class and assume that if the pose is being taught, they can somehow power their way through it.
So, when I teach the poses, I am somewhat cautious. Firstly, it is possible to strain or injure yourself if the poses are done incorrectly. Secondly, most people lack the kinaesthic awareness that allows them to build the pose from the inside.
Thirdly, very few people ask themselves what the poses do. If yoga is to help you with your everyday life, then the question must be asked: what is the problem you are having in your life that requires a pose as a solution? If you spend your life working at a desk then what poses will support this and help you sit with ease?
Lastly, a pose done badly will often have worse effects on your life than not doing the pose at all. I know many colleagues and teachers who have irreparably damaged themselves trying to do a difficult pose.
So, I’m interested in creating class which deals with these issues. I want to teach a class that is rooted in everyday life. A practice which has to be got off the mat was never really on the mat to begin with. So that means that whatever is in your life is also brought on to the mat. There is no special ‘yoga’ attitude. Just a willingness to be present. A class that is rooted in everyday life needs to deal with the fact that most people are under extraordinary stress. So the mat needs to be a place of restoration, not a place where you once again fail and feel terrible about yourself.
I want to create a class which generates safety and trust in your own body. This will help you be present and begin to deal with the stress in your life. Central to this is that you listen to your own body and you are faithful to the intuitions and experiences which arise from this. This means that are you entitled to modify a pose or come out of it early without feeling judged or criticized. It means that you prioritize the subtle nuanced internal awareness of where you are in relationship to the earth and the space around you over achievement of the pose. If you do this, how far you can go will change effortlessly when you are ready.
Most of the yoga students that I have taught who have been unhappy in their practice have prioritized the end result over the process of getting there. If you accept that each release will follow it’s own path and that trying to pre judge this path will only block it, you will be more willing to allow your body to intelligently lead you into the pose.
The journey into the pose involves constraints. In understanding the pose, we are often specifying what we don’t want, what we are seeking to avoid. It is only then that we can let go of the habits that blind us to what is truly happening in our bodies when we are in the pose.
Even with this approach, there are risks. So, it should be understood that no pose is risk free, but the risks can be consciously undertaken. The risks I want to take are one of integration of mind and body, being more present.
OK, finally, I can talk about the poses I do in the class. There are three poses I do pretty much every class because everyone does them and everyone (including me) can benefit from doing them better. They are: standing, sitting and lying on the ground. Then there are the transitions between them. If yoga is to benefit you in every day life, that’s all you need. The rest are just fun. Since I like having fun, I throw in lots of other asanas. But I do so because I want to have fun.
I’m not interested in doing asanas because they are good for me (or my students). The world is full of grim faced yogis who are doing the pose because they think it is doing them good. And the less fun they are having, the weirder their philosophy as to why they should suffer. It is not unique to the yoga world, my local park is full of people speed walking with absolutely no enjoyment of the act because their doctor told them that walking is good for them.
So, maybe you get to do headstand. There again, maybe not. You will probably do forward bends, downward dog, lunges, triangle and the warrior poses. But it depends on where you’re at and sometimes it also depends on where I’m at as well.
So finally, you’re not going to the class to learn the poses. You’re going to the class because you are learning to trust a natural process that allows you to be effortlessly present no matter what pose you are in during your daily life. You’ll be put in places in your body which require you to be inventive, creative and above all, adaptable. And then whatever pose you do will be an antidote to whatever ails you.
In the process, we all get to have fun!
See you in class.