I picked up a Yoga Journal the other day for the first time in years.
I was overwhelmed by the content. At one point in time, I religiously dove into the magazine with an eagerness to absorb every possible thing that was written on the pages; I it was words from Gods to deliver me to a higher state of being.
Of course there are often great articles, sequences and information in the words that cover the glossy 8 x 10 pages of YJ, but the thing I found missing the most was the reminder that yoga is in fact a physical practice. In our eagerness to heal our messy monkey minds, we forget that the way to do that is by getting a bit more physical with our body and a little less emotional.
Yoga started out as a way to stretch the body to rid it of muscular tension so that we could sit for longer periods of time with focus on our breath and calm the subtler energies of our bodies in order to then dive into a practice of meditation and silently listen to the world around us, and gather new information about it and about ourselves.
In the current Western trend of yoga, I am starting to see a lot of turning the asana practice into a metaphysical evaluation. With our desperation to open our hearts, ground down and build our self-confidence, teachers and magazines are preaching emotions rather than reminding students to feel our bodies and what our bodies are telling us; rather than getting physical we get mental.
And yet, are we not mental enough already? Is that not where the problems are beginning?
When I was practicing a lot of hot yoga years ago, I remember how badly I wanted to nail Bow Pulling pose for the heart-opening, because that is what was being emphasized. I would become full of anger that I couldn’t get it or that my heart was not all of the sudden exploding with love when I was practicing that pose every damn day.
For years, I never really knew what that pose actually did structurally for my body, or even better, that it is not a pose that I should do a lot of. No one told me this, they just said that it would stretch my thigh and open my heart… there was a huge misunderstanding on my part and on my teachers’ parts. I was only practicing it to be free of anger, and it just made me more and more angry.
The point is this: I did not need to work on my pose to open my heart. I needed to work on my heart to open my heart.
So many of us start yoga because we are looking for a greater sense of peace, and we know yoga can help with that. Our intention is good and the outcome will be good as well. But if we try to make a physical process all about energetic qualities we are missing the point.
Our body is what we have; it is important that we know it well and use it often.
It’s more important that we feel its strength rather than analyze what it all means emotionally. Because that is just more thinking, and we do not need more thinking, we need more action.
As yoga teachers, we are meant to see how the body mechanics are working and what can help a person in their practice, and though it is true that our body often speaks our mind, it is not necessarily our place to counsel our students, unless we know them well, and know our boundaries as well. We are paid to lead people safely through a physical practice in class, and deliver them physically what they need in private sessions.
It is important that as teachers we remain jacks of our trade (which is hard when you teach yoga because it is not always a financially rewarding choice of work). If we teach yoga and coach and advise nutrition and personal train and do energy work (which many of us do), we can easily get lost in the depths of all this information and start verbally spewing out too much, overwhelming the people who come to us seeking advice, and making our advice more chaotic.
Furthermore, students need to demand to be educated on why we physically do a pose rather than just the mental benefits of it. They will no doubt come, you will become calmer, more settled, comfortable within yourself, quieter, and less stressed, but all of that comes from getting out of the head and into the body, not from accomplishing a certain pose.
The freedom lies in how well we know ourselves.
As more and more people try yoga and continue yoga, we—as teachers and educators of what yoga does—should be careful to instruct the safety before the energetic. Let’s ensure that our students are set up correctly, and give them a physical foundation to explore the depths of their life. And one day as they feel ready and set up they can began to progress into the subtler levels of being.
The truth is that if we are so busy preaching the energetic and the Om of it all we may miss their knee or hip out of alignment and they may injure themselves—not always right then, but later down the line and then they will shy away from yoga. Students can miss out on this opportunity to explore their lives because we want so bad for them to find the freedom from emotions that we rush them through the process.
Somewhere along the lines, we stopped moving our bodies and only focused on our minds, and yoga offers a chance to reverse that and come back around full circle in a safer way.
To the students of yoga that attend classes designed for postures, not including pranayama or meditation: please demand that your teacher teach you what they are paid to. Though it is our responsibility to keep you safe, we sometimes get really excited about your progression and need a reminder here and there that you will not support us telling you your spiritual path, because really we do not know it for you. We only know it for ourselves.
Move your body, get out your head, if it doesn’t mesh with you stop doing it, if you start thinking too much start moving more. You will find what you are looking for.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Hannah Harris / Editor: Catherine Monkman