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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What is the Difference Between: Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana

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I have come across blogs and pictures which name these two postures the same. I think it is important to use the correct names because they are very different postures and work on the body differently. (I am concerned with the Krishnamacharya lineage -not the ghosh lineage. The ghosh lineage diverges from the names of the postures completely so there is some confusion)

During my years of practice, these two postures gave me a lot of trouble (honestly all of them did). But Trikonasana pulled on my back to distraction and I could not reach far down with my hand.

Until I really learned what was the important focus in Triangle and how to MOVE INTO it, I was doomed to misunderstand it. Until I learned to slowly go in it (over days not seconds of practice) and in my own time (years of practice), I was constantly uncomfortable.

The key was to move slowly and to stop when I felt the pull too strongly then I knew I was in the posture to the best of my body’s ability. Working from the hips rather than the head or hand really helped me understand that to open into this posture was to allow my own hips and legs to let go of one another. How did I do that? Move slowly, work from the movement of the hips on top of the straight leg and then things slowly started to release. Soon I was able to reach my fingers close to the floor – although that is still not my focus (nor is it the posture’s focus).

Parsvakonasana was a different experience entirely. My hips needed to slowly release the top of my thighs in order to essentially squat into the posture and be able to lay my torso over the bent leg, open up, and reach my arm overhead. It was the same focus however – work from the hips as if I were squatting down and the back leg strong. The hand was the least of my worries – and so it should be. With a combination of hip openers, patience and practice, I finally was able to feel what this posture was all about.

While these two postures ask the same from you – the hip and leg muscle relationships are different because of the either the straight leg or bent knee. As well, you can see that the lower body and upper body relationship is quite different. In Trikonasana, the upper body is at 90° (in full posture) from the lower body, and Parsvakonasana the upper body is essentially in alignment with the lower body. This difference alone changes your bodies dynamic in each posture.

When doing each of these postures, they need to be understood each on their own terms because they are different.

I think the problem comes when the hand on the floor or close to it becomes the focus – which it is not. It is bad teaching when that becomes the goal. The fingers or hand need not  reach the floor (at least not yet).

Truly to do each posture to your best ability the key in each is whether the front leg is straight or bent.

In Trikonasana – the front leg stays straight. Do not compromise yourself or the posture by bending the front knee. If you can not bring the torso down like in all the pictures (who can) just give yourself time. Take your time by focusing on the hip movement. It’ll move – just give it time!  And I mean real time – not 30 seconds or 5 breaths. Take it slow through days weeks months. Keep practicing.

If in Parsvakonasana you can’t reach the hand down – not to worry. Work with the focus of squatting down into the the bent knee’s hip and work from there.

Let’s Review:

How you can tell the difference between Trikonasana (Triangle) and Parsvakonasana (side-angle) in simple easy to see terms:

Trikonasana – front leg is Straightback foot toes pointing out to the side (mainly); front hand is usually along side inner shin, fingers extending, palm open or sometimes grabbing the toe; top arm extended straight up.

Parsvakonasana – front leg is Bent 90°; back foot is turned in 45°; hand is on the floor (usually); top arm extended over ear.

This is to help you Recognize these postures. This is Not meant to be Instructional – although it can be when you’re want it.