Yoga: It Is The Practice That Teaches Not The Teacher

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Ashtanga yoga and Iyengar yoga have a few things in common:

1. They both come from a very traditional background and were developed from ancient understandings of yoga. They come from students of Krishnamacharya.

2. They have been taught without variation for decades (except maybe variation of teaching styles to accommodate level of student and time spent in class) and there’s a silent agreement that the form and process of the practice would not be altered. Meaning that: say the Ashtanga series would not see any variation or addition to the main idea and postures of the practice. Teachers knew way-back-when that yoga was not about them.

A lot of derivatives of these practices of yoga have developed since

because of this particular person’s predilections or perhaps that person’s understanding of what it takes to bring Yoga (not only asana) to the masses. Whatever the case, these yogas became things like Vinyasa, Jivamukti, Anusara, etc., and the idea of yoga (asana) expanded for better or worse. We see an explosion of these variations because Asana yoga has become very popular. As it becomes more popular with the “Thinspiration” generation it is more about the body and looking good than ever before. Yoga (asana) is changing because the students have changed.

Is There A Place For Traditional Yoga (Asana) Practice?

Being a fairly traditional Ashtanga teacher, the traditional and strict aspect of both styles can turn off newbie and young students, and those who are looking for self-gratification. I find that it is more the aspect of “I want to feel good about myself and look good” which seems to be paramount for most students these days. Precise instruction and conceptualization is not what students are looking for because somehow it makes some students feel “less than”. It sounds like criticism and doesn’t add the students’ narcissistic vanity of “how good I am for being here and doing this”.

I have found that these days having a good sweat is not enough. The classes have to appeal to the aspect of personal power. So the more challenging postures in a class the better.

I tend to balance my classes (this is when I teach Stylized Vinyasa) with a style of teaching that challenges and at the same time, I do not introduce postures like some arm balances or things like the splits, etc., unless I see that the majority of students are a little more seasoned and I’ve taught them for a while and gotten to know them. I have witnessed classes where teachers will put beginners into some poses at risk of injury without any concern and the students just love it. Conversely, I have challenged those who just wanted to really do a restorative class (wasn’t even advertised as one but they expected it (?)) and gotten my head chewed off because of it.

Just Teach As The Practice Dictates – Not What Your Or Your Students’ Egos Dictate

There really isn’t any way to predict students’ preferences anyhow, and I have to say that Iyengar and Ashtanga stay steadfast in maintaining the traditional way of teaching as much as possible – and no, I don’t mean yelling at your students or calling them names – that is the style of the teacher not the practice, and doesn’t come from the deep understanding of the practice. I mean that the process through which the student is guided is as much about the practice as it is about the student.

It Is The Practice That Teaches Not The Teacher

Iyengar must stay as Iyengar as possible. Otherwise it starts to get confused. I have taught Ashtanga for years now and have trained in it extensively. I know the practice beyond the postures just because of the practice itself. That is what I’m teaching. I know some “Ashtanga” teachers who do not practice it and therefore do not know the practice as a practice. They do not know the intricacies of it. These teachers bow to the pressures of students’ to add postures which do not belong in the series, make it harder or easier, and let go of the rhythm of the class to appease those who just want to “feel good about myself” to the detriment of Ashtanga. I have had great difficulty teaching Ashtanga after these teachers because students are not being educated in it.

Yoga Is Yoga First And Foremost

But teachers will try anything including risking the injury of their students because for some reason we have decided in this culture that yoga is about popularity and money instead of teaching simply and with humility.

It is the teacher’s role to teach their students about the practice beyond the ego-ic need to be appeased and catered to (Spa-like). The most essential teaching for us as teachers and for our students is that: It is not the practice that makes you feel bad nor is it the teacher’s responsibility. Feeling good about yourself is an inner conflict and learning that and coming to terms with it is revealed in the practice.

The teacher must teach the practice as it is because the practice is beyond the teacher and the student. It is bigger than them.

Peace!

This post is an extended version of a comment I made to a post by a fellow Yogini. Here is the post:

http://yogaspy.com/2013/07/08/can-iyengar-yoga-attract-the-masses/

Thanks Lucy.

Christine

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2 thoughts on “Yoga: It Is The Practice That Teaches Not The Teacher

  1. YogaSpy says:

    It is interesting: the similarity between Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga practitioners’ focus on their lineage. Shirley Daventry French, one of the senior-most Iyengar teachers in Canada, has written about the recent fusion of yoga styles (not to mention yoga+Pilates, acro-yoga, etc). She says that jumping from one practice to another often indicates Westerners’ desire for quick fixes–and that blending practices often means picking and choosing only the pleasant aspects of each.

    Personally, I enjoy some sampling and experimentation. (The Ashtanga classes that I tried, years ago, still resonate with me. I quite enjoy starting my practice with movement and repetition: sun salutations.) But I do agree with Shirley’s two point above. Only intense, regular, and longtime practice will take us anywhere.

    What irks me is when teachers list their backgrounds as Iyengar, Ashtanga, Anusara, Viniyoga, and everything else out there (see one of my first posts: http://yogaspy.com/2009/08/12/naming-names/). It would be laughable for me to mention Ashtanga in my background. It discounts and disrespects the training/knowledge/devotion of actual Ashtanga teachers. Similarly, there’s a reason why Iyengar teachers are disturbed by misuse of BKS Iyengar’s name. (I know that some uncertified “Iyengar teachers” actually do represent his method well and are excellent teachers; but many simply take one Iyengar class and tout their Iyengar training in their bios.)

    I’ll look you up if ever I make it to Toronto!

    Luci in Vancouver

    • 1barefootgirl says:

      I too agree with Shirley about the reason for the “jumping from one practice to another”.
      And I resonate with your wish to sample and experiment with other styles.

      For a few years, when I first started to practice Ashtanga, I would go to Iyengar classes/teachers, Vinyasa (especially Jivamukti) and even Bikram briefly. All of it informed my own practice.

      It used to be (very strictly) that Ashtanga was taught with little instruction – very few words. Really during a led class, counting of the breath, a little instruction and calling out names. Because my body didn’t go into poses readily, I looked to different styles for their approaches to reconcile the body with asana which helped me in my personal practice (Mysore/self-practice) and staying away from injury as much as possible, and finally my teaching style. Believe me I know about commitment. It took me 5 years of practicing the Primary Series until I felt comfortable enough in my body, in my own practice to experiment with Second Series and so on. The experimenting helped in those initial years for sure. But I always knew my love was Ashtanga. And I would never list any of the styles (except Vinyasa) as a practice I teach for exactly the reason you mention.

      Thank you for your input and your wise words. Our sharing of our experiences I’m sure inform and hopefully encourage ways to practice for others.

      I look forward to your visit! 🙂 And if I ever get to Vancouver – I’ll look you up as well!

      Peace!
      Christine

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