I just read another article bemoaning the destruction of Yoga by ‘well-meaning’ yet ill-trained teachers and how a certain organization (whose name I won’t bother to mention here) that seeks to create standards for the teaching of Yoga in America is an abject failure and only interested in creating profit. The writer spoke of his absolute mental breakdown after teaching over 44 (forty-four!) teacher training classes and basically burning out and going to bed for months. The writer asked a question of his student teachers: What are you teaching? The answers he received to this question seemed to be one of the primary reasons for the writer’s descent into the abyss of depression.
Supposedly, his students could not provide an answer. It makes me wonder if he just didn’t like their answers. It makes me wonder why he thinks he is the only one who has the ‘correct’ answer. I have encountered many ‘Yoga snobs’ – those who are sure that there is only one path to ‘true’ Yoga. OH! Music should never be played in a Yoga class! OH! If you play music, it shouldn’t have any ‘words’. OH Yoga is being ‘watered down’ by those misguided Westerners! OH NO- you shouldn’t make a profit from teaching Yoga or running a studio! OH NO this style or that style of Yoga is not what they teach in India!
This really hit a nerve for me. Now, it’s clear I am very young in my Yoga practice and have barely scratched the surface of all the teachings and I don’t have a guru and I haven’t been to India and I eat meat and well, you name it…I am far from a pure Yogi. However, I know there is more to Yoga then the physical practice (asanas, postures, poses). My Yoga teacher training has spanned almost 3 years and my teacher training instructors have top notch credentials and decades of experience. We study the ancient texts, scriptures, meditation, pranayama (breathing techniques), mantras, mudras, anatomy and Ayurveda (ancient science for health and mental well-being). In a very subtle way, I incorporate ALL of this in my teaching and my own practice. I don’t need to say to the class- “Today, we will explore the concept of Ahimsa (non violence)”..or “hey, let’s meditate!!!” or “Tonite, we are going to have a Pitta-pacifying practice”! It’s woven in the fabric of the postures, the words and the music flowing together with an emphasis on reconnecting with our mind, heart and body. Yoga literally means to ‘yoke’ or ‘unify’. We start by acknowledging we are a little broken, maybe stressed or anxious or just plain tired. We agree as a group (not literally!) to be still for a few moments, listen to our thoughts and really BREATHE. We decide that we may want to have an intention or purpose for our practice that day. Then, we move. Once we have worked out all the kinks (physical and mental), we are prepared to rest in the bliss that is Savasana.
Honestly, most students begin coming to class for the physical ‘work out’ to lose weight or stretch out a sore back. They want to MOVE and stretch and it feels good (well, most of the time!). If they stick with it, over time, they realize it is SO much more. It happened for me and I have watched others transform right before my eyes! They are happier, less stressed and calmer. Is this Yoga? I think so. Does any single teacher or guru or spiritual master possess the knowledge of a ‘correct’ way to practice Yoga? I doubt it. Can a good thing like Yoga get distorted or ‘destroyed’ by commercialization? Maybe, but I am not sure Yoga can be destroyed.
So, my answer to the question- “What do you teach?” would be:
I teach people to reconnect with their heart, mind and body through movement, breathing and meditation.
Through these practices, some people can find a renewed sense of joy in their everyday existence. Some can reconnect with their personal spirituality. Others can even find a new way to love themselves and others. Some will feel great, stand taller and that’s all they need to be better human beings.
THIS is Yoga.
Seeker of Truth
Humble Being Having a Human Experience
One thought on “What IS Yoga? Are we doing it ‘wrong’?”
Well said teacher! I started your class at 70 years old. I’m still the oldest in your Wednesday class. Having been thru a life changing experience, I needed something to help me see that I was still valuable. I had lost my joy of life. I came to your class and have found thru your instructions my joy again. My connection to a happiness that brought me full circle back to myself. I have great respect for yoga and the principles it teaches. I will always treasure my experiences in your class, and I am very grateful for your willingness to help and teach. Thank you!!