November 1, 2013

What’s Age Got to Do with It?

I wondered aloud to my teacher the other day…do you think Guruji thought of himself as more of a healer than a teacher?

Because sometimes I think we’ve taken this system out of context and forced it into our own more rigid, assessment-based educational model. With a perception of poses doled out based on some sort of merit system. Like those who move forward are to be congratulated while those who find them selves stuck or repeating must lick their wounds.

I read a blog the other day and it struck a chord with me. In fact, the author who is a (virtual) friend of mine sent it to me, believing her story might resonate. Her message did—but her words did not:

“Asana-wise, I have reached not just a roadblock, but my ‘peak.’ I keep saying to myself, ‘Hey self, you’re 42. You’ve made it halfway through Third. This is an accomplishment!’ … Working your way “up” the Ashtanga asana ladder is all I’ve known within the 12 years I’ve been practicing. What’s next is working my way down.” (Genny Wilkinson Priest)

Yes, I’m six years older than my friend. But quite frankly, I’m not ready to accept that I’ve “peaked.” And actually, this sentiment feels as uncomfortable to me as being hailed or congratulated for still “working my way up.”

You see, the forwards and backwards thing is misleading. If we consider this through more academic eyes, then yes—progression is a sign of advancement just as staying put or (heaven forbid) repeating is a sign of regression—or worse, failure.

The goal of an asana practice is to heal, purify and strengthen the body, yes? My goal is not necessarily to lift my Eka Bakasana A on the left side with straight arms, for five breaths…or, actually—it is. But more for the reasons I cannot, to overcome my obstacles, physical or mental.

So I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe all these postures are simply prescriptive, like some ongoing, brilliantly designed treatment plan. And the plan has order for a reason, as its transformational effects are well documented and studied.

But also, individualized and so doses will vary—as would pace:

The aspirant that goes to a Guru will find that the Guru will tailor his practice to his particular bodily constitution. Yoga should never be learned from reading books or looking at pictures. It should only be learned under the guidance of a Guru who knows the yogic science and is experienced in its practice. (Yoga Mala)

(And if Guruji were here to amend his book, I’m sure he would now include YouTube as well.)

So the longer I practice, the more I begin to see this practice less as an educational teaching model and more as a systemic healer. These postures are not (or shouldn’t be) a reward earned for a well-executed performance.

Instead, as the medicine works its magic, we continue on with the treatment. And if something stops working, we revisit.

The primary series begins the healing process. Second series brings further cleansing. Third moves us into a more elusive space where power and grace come together. And so on…or not.

If it appears linear, it’s because for the most part, it should be for the person in good health. But when we get sick or old (like me), we don’t get sent back a grade—we simply resume a treatment plan that meets our current needs.

Guruji began teaching yoga in a hospital. The story goes that one of his final tests from his teacher was to cure a man who was ill through yoga

So I ask my teacher again:

Do you think Guruji saw himself more of a healer than a teacher?

David G. got that crinkled, pained look on his face—the very same one he gets when he looks at my down dog. And he just started shaking his head …

No Peg. No. Guruji was a master of yoga. And yoga is a spiritual practice.

Ok, so my medical model might need to be tweaked and expanded. I get that. But still, there’s no graduation or failure as mastery has never ever been the goal.

Yoga is the goal. And yoga is a spiritual practice.

Spirit dwells in timelessness, free from the past, free from the future.


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 Ed: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Alberto Villoldo: Yoga, Power, and Spirit

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