October 1, 2011

Is the Guru/Student connection lost the more big business Yoga gets?

I’ve felt rather jaded with yoga recently. Not my own personal practice, although I’ve been busy starting college and my practice has taken a back seat to a certain degree, I enjoy it. It’s more the teaching of it that I’ve fallen out with.

Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching. I love the sociability of it. I’m an extrovert in the true sense of the meaning ie; I feel energised being around others. I love the energy of company that I find in a yoga class.

But I’ve not been teaching much of late. Summer is always bad for yoga studios right? And traditionally yogasana is started in the autumn anyway. I was hoping that in opening my own studio, there would be enough regular students that I could afford the odd residential here and there, with maybe a few master classes thrown in for good measure. There hasn’t even been enough students to pay the rent though.

The situation has made me think, to re-evaluate where I’m at and focus on what I actually want. You see I don’t want yoga to be about money. Payment for me is hearing people telling me how great they feel after I class I’ve taught or, how they don’t get those crippling migraine headaches that used to keep them bedridden for days at a time, anymore.

We’re between a rock and a hard place at the moment it seems…at least, that’s how it appears for yoga studios around me on the east coast of Ireland. A lot of the bigger studios have begun to offer unlimited class passes. For around fifty euros a month, you can take as many classes as you want. That’s a pretty good deal I reckon!

Most of these classes though are based around the one-hour format. Can we really get a proper yoga practice in just one hour? I don’t think so. To really get the benefit of yoga, from yogasana to meditation, the class has to be longer. In the need to get more people in to pay for rent and teachers, studios have succumb to the fast-food ideology… value for money and quick when we’ve not got time, but doesn’t give us the long-term nutrition we really need.

Karuna yoga as a school, has been around for 47 years now. My Guru Ruth White, as a student of B.K.S. Iyengar (Guriji is still president of the Karuna school), was also studying Advaita and meditation with her husband John. In those early days, Iyengar wouldn’t teach meditation and Ruth’s love of this limb of yoga encouraged her to take the step in setting up Karuna yoga.

Ruth White.

Karuna was my first style of yoga and it fits me like a glove. I enjoy other styles, but Karuna is my heart. Ruth’s classes are intense and can last for hours. I sometimes think she’d be happy to keep teaching all day, but she notices when students begin to get distracted by thoughts of lunch. Her morning sessions always end with pranayama and meditation after savasana. A few days of this at a residential and I’m walking on air.

So you can maybe see why I don’t really agree with the whole one-hour lesson thing. The other thing I feel students could be missing out on though is connection. Connection between student and teacher is important. Traditionally yoga would have been taught one-on-one, just guru and student and there would have been a certain amount of bonding in this dynamic.

It is possible for the teacher to keep a connection with a lot of students. Ruth White can certainly do it, there could be 50 budding teachers in her class but she manages to teach each person individually. And I’ve a feeling that John Friend is probably very much the same.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that; as yoga becomes more and more popular, with more studios opening everyday. And with yoga business being more about getting “butts on seats”. I hope we don’t lose sight completely, of what yoga actually is.

You see, it’s real easy to get caught up by the ego without realising. It’s possible that big studio owners believe they are reaching out to more people and spreading the yoga love, when the opposite may be the truth. There’s less and less of a connection with guru and student.

Anyone can teach yoga postures, but to really teach yoga, I think the teacher has to have had some kind of epiphany. An epiphany about how the life experiences they’ve been and are going through, are directly linked to what’s happening physically, with muscle, sinew and bone. The teacher can then see what’s happening with each student and share their experiences.

I’ve recently been doing some one-on-one sessions with a guy that runs and plays a lot of football. He wanted to try yoga because of the flexibility, to compliment his fitness routine. But he also wanted to learn more about how yoga sets the mind at ease and releases stress. He’s under some pressure with work and unlike a lot of guys, has decided to do something about it before it effects his health, as he’s been experiencing some anxiety and panic attacks.

In three sessions, not only has he found muscles that weren’t there before, he’s also not had one panic attack in two weeks! I don’t feel that he would have got those results as fast if he’d been going to classes with 20 or more people in it, unless the teacher was really good at making connections with the students.

So I don’t feel jaded about teaching yoga anymore. For a long time my biggest worry was trying to get people into classes, to pay the rent and earn some money. Now, I’m not worried. No matter how many people I teach, the only thing I really have to focus on to be happy, is how I connect with each person in the class.

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