When you hear the word, what do you think of? Chances are, whatever “yoga” means to you is completely different for what it means to me.
When I’m headed out to yoga, my dad jokes: “Are you off to go stretching and breathing?”
He’s not that far off the mark of what yoga can be. Just about the only thing you and I might completely agree on is the direct English translation of the word. “Yoga” comes from “yoke” and “yuj,” which mean to pull together parts to make a whole. Some believe that you are creating union of body, mind and soul.
In general, yoga is a system that teaches us techniques to be whole, happy and healthy. It also means “union,” both union of our self and among each other. And yet, we can become very attached to our own interpretation of yoga. We like our safety nets of what we are used to, or the style of yoga that we were trained in first. When we individuate based on our own opinions, we have actually lost the external “union” part of yoga.
“That Sam-I-am! That Sam-I-am! I do not like that Sam-I-Am!”…”I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham.”
Dr. Seuss, childhood favorite, is also a master of messages that anyone of any age could embrace.
His book, Green Eggs and Ham, (that, as a mom of a toddler, I can almost recite by heart) is the story of how Sam-I-am wants a grumpy individual to try some green eggs and ham, but he refuses. Throughout the book, he declares that no matter how the green eggs and ham are delivered, he will not try them and he will not like them.
Then finally at the end of the story, everyone ends up in a catastrophe and he says, “Sam! If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see.”
He tries the green eggs and ham, and — “Say! I like green eggs and ham!”…“Thank you, thank you, Sam-I-am!”
Around my house, I often find myself trying to convince my little boy that certain foods or clothes or places or people are “just like green eggs and ham.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — but isn’t it funny that as adults we stop listening to these valuable childhood lessons? We often do not like “green eggs and ham yoga perspectives,” even if we don’t know much about them.
In the modern world of yoga, there are literally hundreds of different styles and lineages. I have been lucky enough to take about five different teacher trainings, three of which were from completely different lineages. Actually, compared to other systems of beliefs, yoga has done an excellent job of keeping some connection through the fragmentation. We share studios and take each other’s styles. We celebrate at festivals together. We learn from each other. There are now several studios in Boulder, like the Yoga Pod, that have a lot of diversity to offer. For the most part, teachers believe that it’s better to be doing yoga, in any lineage, than not at all.
Now, I’m lucky enough to be directing a new kind of teacher training at the Yoga Pod that will focus on educating students about how the various lineages of yoga have affected our modern views of yoga.
As we get more immersed in yoga, we realize that everyone teaches it slightly differently.
Even in the little bubble of Boulder, Colorado, there are polar-opposite beliefs about how to do yoga and we can do teacher trainings in each of these. Some believe in getting out of your head and into your body. Some believe in using your mind as access to your body. Some believe in the guru and hierarchy of systems. Some don’t believe yoga should be guided. Some love “yoga rock-stars.” Some believe in only being humble. Some believe yoga is exercise. Some believe yoga is only sitting and meditating. Some believe we should control our breath. Some don’t. Some believe in letting go of our psychological demons, some believe in feeding our demons. I could go on and on. In most teacher trainings that we take, the school will pick one side of each of the above and teach us that “this is the way yoga is.”
But guess what? All of these arguments are just that; they are polarized arguments that are only seeing one side of the story.
We have all been caught arguing a side without considering the other, including myself. In our world, when there are two opinions on an issue, we “solve” the argument the same way that our American court system does. We polarize on the points of view, argue only one side, and then one side wins and one side loses. One is right. One is wrong. It’s kind of like when my toddler doesn’t want something, “Me no like green eggs and ham, ever!”
There’s another way to have an enlightening discussion instead of an argument. A discussion where we use a lot more “ands” instead of “buts.” This kind of discussion is sometimes attributed to Socrates and can be called a Socratic Seminar. The goal is for all to compromise and meet in the middle instead of having only one side that wins.
The Yoga Pod is about to make a daring move with their Seva Teacher Training in which we’ll be using a lot of “ands” to give students a high quality, comprehensive, well-rounded and researched yoga education.
The first half of the training is designed to go over the stead-fast basics of Hatha Yoga (here meaning yoga involving asana/physical postures) offering several view-points of yoga philosophy and several modules of different styles of yoga. I and Stephanie Ramos, both ERYT’s, will be directing the training, and many other teachers from different areas of expertise will be presenting, too. The second half of the training will present how to teach a reliable and smart class. It is based on educational techniques derived from different yoga masters, professional public speakers, and from learning styles that educators in K-12 schools use. We’ll be teaching you how to access and teach from both your left and right brain. It’s a whole new perspective…Welcome to 2012!
Great teachers are able to explain or guide their students on the paths they have taken and at the same time, just like Socrates, don’t always give the answers.
Just as we hear in yoga all the time: the answers are already there within you. You just have to unveil them. In other words, the union of yoga and the diversity of yoga are both good and need to happen at the same time. Wholeness offers harmony and diversity offers evolution. If we are only “one yoga” we’d never evolve. If we only have separate styles of yoga that negate each other, we might end up in battles like religions.
I don’t mean that we have to be friends with everyone and do all kinds of yoga. In fact, there are many benefits to sticking to one style that works for us, for a while, so that we don’t end up running in circles on our path. I do, however, recommend that we at least try the green eggs and ham out before we stick it out on just one path. And even if we don’t like the green eggs and ham, acknowledge that others might. And if we don’t care for the green eggs and ham, maybe try it again later, because in the world of yoga, meditation (and therapy!), people evolve really fast.
Each individual has something in their life that they’ve found to make them happy. What if we listen to “Sam-I-am” right off the bat and give him a chance before we end up in a catastrophe like he did? “Sam-I-am” just wants to share the path to happiness that he took.
If we all listen to each other’s insights of formulas for happiness, we might actually create more of it. We’ll all be eating different foods that might smell awful to each other, but we’ll be smiling at each other, all the same.
Erin Keeley Phillips, ERYT, M.S., is the author of the Seva Yoga Pod Teacher Training manual and a director for the program, an approved Yoga Alliance 200 hr., Hatha Yoga Teacher Training program. The Seva program focuses on providing students of yoga with a high quality, well-rounded, researched and non-biased yoga education that will include modules taught by other teachers in many styles of yoga. Erin has been teaching yoga in Boulder since 2006 and has been practicing since 1999. She teaches from the influence of many master teachers of Hatha yoga including Anusara Yoga, Rainbow Kids yoga, vinyasa yoga, power yoga, hot yoga, and Ashtanga yoga. For more information on the Seva Teacher Training, go to theyogapod.com. For more information about Erin, go to resonate-yoga.com.