Not My Yoga!

Via on Jun 23, 2010

Not my yoga!

Yoga is way too big to ever be called, “mine”.

I love yoga. I practice yoga. I read about it. Dream about it. And I teach yoga.

Yet, if someone were to ask me about what is my yoga, my inclination is to answer that it’s not “my yoga”. It is way too big for that.

Yoga is not “mine”. I cannot give myself or another person yoga. What I have learned from teachers is technique. I can apply this technique to myself, and I can teach it to others, but the yoga itself is not mine to have or mine to give. I can only participate in the experience.

Whenever I have asked Gabriel Halpern (a yoga teacher who has had a profound impact on my understanding of yoga and on how I see myself as a human being) about something amazing and insightful he said during class, he always says that it came from Mr. Iyengar. I recognize something truthful in this strategy of teaching beyond what might be immediately apparent. It could be true that every time I have commented on what Gabriel said in class that it came from something he learned from Mr. Iyengar, the man. However, what this kind of deferral has taught me is that the teachings of yoga come from a source that is beyond us. This brings a sense of diligence and service to the teaching of yoga. It is beneficial to individual people, but it is not about us as individuals. We are working to maintain an ideal of service and care for humans through yoga.

One time, years ago, while assisting Gabriel in a Gentle yoga class, a student I’d been assisting spoke extremely glowingly about an experience she had had in a pose. When Gabriel came over she shared with him the wonder and revelation of her experience and my part in it. I was smiling and feeling very pleased; she felt that I had done very well was what I was telling myself. (Yes, I had done very well…) Gabriel, who can be quite theatrical, then turned to me and made a funny face (like maybe he had crapped his pants—it was hilarious, but I was too stunned to laugh…), turned his eyes upward, waved his hands in the air, and stepped from one foot to the other. His stature seemed to be shrinking during this strange and playful dance of adoration. Then he got down onto his knees, paused and then kissed my feet. I was embarrassed and felt myself shrink inside a little. I got it. This wasn’t about me. It was about her experience of herself, which she happened to be projecting onto me in that moment. I had lapped it up like a kitty drinking milk, but that wasn’t the whole story.

You see, it’s easy to become confused when it comes to yoga. I was offering some points on technique that I had learned from Gabriel, that he had learned from Mr. Iyengar in India, that he had learned from… (and so on…) So when my head was expanding with delight, and Gabriel knelt down and kissed my foot it immediately dawned on me that this was not a situation to buy into. Sobered, I turned to the student and continued our work.

And the lesson has stuck with me to this day, approximately seven years later… I honor the experience of students, and at the same time I know for myself that the blessings of students are reflections of their gratefulness about their experience with yoga—it’s not about me. I only strive to serve the process of life and yoga in a helpful way.

* Simul-posted at Yogic Muse *

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About Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at: brookshall.blogspot.com.

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8 Responses to “Not My Yoga!”

  1. Charlotte says:

    Thank, Brooks, for such a wonderful reminder. When I went to India to study with the Iyengars in 1989, Gabriel was in the intensive. I really enjoyed his humor and wisdom. I'm glad to hear he's still dispensing it!

    I am very careful always to give credit to my many teachers for whatever poses or concepts I've learned from them. Yoga is universal. It belongs to no one. While we as teachers all develop our own unique relationships with yoga, which then come out in our teaching, this is just our "yoga personality." Like our own personalities, our yoga personality is a tool that helps us communicate the universal truth that yoga is. The students that gravitate to us are simply those that resonate with the way we communicate yoga. But yoga itself is a universal truth—not mine or yours to keep, but rather a gift for all of us to discover.

    • Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

      Thanks, Charlotte! I really enjoy hearing that you were at the intensive with Gabriel!

      And thanks also for defining the “yoga personality”—so true! In yoga it becomes necessary to discern the particular understanding and universality. Yes!

  2. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Linda: So it sounds like, when you use the words “my yoga”, you are referring to your practice which is as distinct and beautiful as a snowflake, rainstorm or fingerprint: as unique and profound as you are.

    • Linda-Sama says:

      yes, I guess! because aren't we all snowflakes? or the mountains? or drops of water? or dirt? isn't that when yoga truly becomes "our" yoga when we know in our bones that we are everything and everything is us? ;) :)

      ahhhhh……questions and riddles and koans……

  3. [...] tryin’ not to fool myself by looking for experiences to take me out of “this”, ’cause this is where [...]

  4. [...] way, for me. But I agree with the concept that yoga is bigger than the individuals that practice, so I can’t really own anything about the larger unfolding of yoga—none of us really know where this thing is going. Which is [...]

  5. Charlotte says:

    Nicely put, Linda-Sama. If you stay with practice long enough, your yoga practice will continue to evolve with you over time. So defining it only serves to confine it. As you say, many former ashtangis practice in a way that looks much more like viniyoga as their understanding becomes more refined. I completely agree that slowing down practice makes it more, not less, powerful and certainly more profound.

    In the mid-1980s after years of intense practice in Pune, Iyengar said to my teacher Pujari, "The flame is lit. You're on your own." I love this because it says to me that Iyengar recognized that Pujari had made the practice his own. Since then I've watched as Pujari's practice has continued to change, and his unique way of sharing it with his students has grown more subtle. So yes, it is his own yoga, and his own yoga personality, but still it is universal yoga, and we as students each receive and embody it in our own unique ways.

  6. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Thank you, Linda-Sama! Since you have so generously shared your viewpoint, I’d like to share with you how I see another angle, too. From your comment: '"your yoga" won't necessarily be "my yoga."' This language is about definition and separation, which has a helpful purpose when we are working with our particularities, but by itself those words leave me, as I read them, out and feeling cold. And of course, as you are talking about yourself, it makes sense, but I find myself wanting to be somehow included in the picture, because in my heart I believe that “your yoga is my yoga” and “yoga is connection’. I think that we can expand our minds and hearts beyond our individuality, while still including our particulars.

    And I think that students might need to mimic their teachers until they develop their own understanding. I know I did. When a person doesn’t understand this way of yoga, but has met an extraordinary person, one might copy the actions of this person until they understand themselves better—thus mentoring can be helpful. And of course as this understanding develops it will have uniqueness based on this persons personality and individuality, but something good is shining out! Something different than before…

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