Being a yoga teacher gives you a whole new perspective on a yoga class. You hear how everyone is breathing, you see them making small adjustments to their postures, and you pick up on the energy of the room in a different way than if you were practicing with them. It’s wonderful, just wonderful.
There’s something funny about being a yoga teacher though—everyone does exactly what you say. If I say inhale and lift your right leg (even though we just did the right side and I meant left, though that happens less frequently lately), people lift their right leg anyway. If I offer a way to move deeper into the pose for those who would like to try it, almost everyone will try it.
Therefore, I consider what I say in yoga class carefully and know that it is an honor to teach.
However, asana (the postures) is only a small part of yoga. Yoga is also meditating, breathing, and devotion to God. There are also various yoga texts that discuss these and other practices. Some teachers talk about Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras in class and from one teacher to another you can find different perspectives on it. Also, teachers rarely seem to refer to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. There is a wealth of yoga beyond the postures your teacher teaches and the writings your teacher spotlights.
The writings in Yoga Beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice by Ganga White, my teacher, really resonate with me. It’s a great read and I suggest anyone interested in furthering their yoga practice pick it up. In making his point that you have to find your own yoga and what it means to you, Ganga mentions how the concept of brahmacharya is often interpreted as responsible sexuality or making your sexual union special, when in actuality it is more likely referring to celibacy. People take the text and choose to read into it what they need. He goes on to say,
“We can learn from and use the tradition in an approach tempered by the realization that what we call tradition is truly our own, or another’s, interpretation of what something may have been in the distant past. . . . Relying too much on doctrines and texts for guidance in living cuts one off from direct perception and from the living awareness of insight. Yoga should be viewed as an art as well as a science. Structured, more scientific, aspects of yoga and techniques also involve unstructured, indefinable dynamics that require artistry and awareness to apply. Living in wholeness and creativity has structural components, but life is more an art than a science. . . . Yoga is practiced within the tradition but must be applied according to the uniqueness of each person’s life and situation. We should not simply idealize the past and assume that teachings, purportedly unchanged from the ancient past, are perfect, superior, or appropriate for the present” (emphasis his).
He goes on to write, “we cannot learn to fly by following the tracks left by birds in the sand. We must find our own wings and soar.”
The best yoga practice is your practice. Returning to your mat daily, sitting in meditation, taking pauses frequently to deepen your breath, and showing compassion to your neighbors. I’m not saying that you should or shouldn’t read the ancient texts, but I humbly offer that by noticing your thoughts, using your body, and finding some peace, you are practicing yoga in all its glory—your yoga.