I taught this weekend in the Woodlands, TX at Woodlands Yoga and it seems like I kinda hit the ground running upon my return. Kelly and I are heading back up to Colorado for a few weeks of much needed R&R doing all things mountain- whitewater kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and so on so these last few days have been full of all of the usual activities (practice, planning, webinars, etc.) as well as preparations for our trip.
I woke up early this morning, did my morning practices and now I have a few moments to reflect more on the weekend.
This was my third visit to teach at Woodlands Yoga. The first time I went was when its founder and original owner, Vicki invited me to come and teach. Vicki is a long-time practitioner and teacher with deep roots into Iyengar Yoga and she was probably one of the first members of the Anusara Yoga community, being around at its inception right there in The Woodlands, TX. Two years ago the studio was under the direction of the Anusara Yoga office and I went there to teach there in August, shortly after the Anusara Inspired-teacher's Gathering in Tahoe. And here we are now, with the studio under the guidance of my friend and colleague, Sue Brooks, who has brought a lot of fresh energy, insight, honesty and creativity to the community there.
I think the thing that stood out for me the most this weekend was the honest level of discussion present about the shifts and changes within their personal yoga landscape at the studio these last few years as well as the good-hearted enjoyment of exploring the postures together, regardless of what brand the yoga is called and who was teaching. The students worked hard, laughed a lot, asked good questions and really seemed to enjoy being together for the weekend. Given that The Woodlands is John Friend's home town, the students there have gotten a fair amount of exposure to his new style of yoga and the new aspects of alignment he is teaching. We had some fun times talking shop about alignment content as well as my favorite topic which might best be summed up as "the context of learning yoga" which boils down to exploring the ways and means that we might navigate similarities, difference, tradition, innovation, general instructions and specific needs with the open-minded, open-hearted scrutiny of mature discernment.
Yep. Think about that. Open-minded. Open-hearted. Scrutiny. Mature. Discernment. Scrutiny without openness is too tough, will close us down to new insights, new influences and new avenues of exploration. Openness without scrutiny leaves us too impressionable, gullible and even manipulatable as students. Maturity means that our "yes" and "no" to the teacher is neither blind obedience nor reactionary rebellion but a measured, intelligent and adult choice to engage or to opt out. And well, discernment, to me, is the wisdom that arises when our heart and the mind are working together in our own best interest.
Yoga is such an interesting endeavor to me because the classroom can be such a microcosmic representation of life and our relationship to the process of learning what it means to be a student of life's lessons, our own experiences and our own wisdom. That old adage that says "how you do anything is how you do everything" can serve us well when we examine our learning styles, our relationship with our successes, failures, competencies, and challenges on the mat. We also get to see our habitual ways of coping and not coping with uncertainty, paradox, similarity and difference. The field is rich with metaphoric meaning and provides us with fertile ground for self-examination and growth. I always find myself with plenty of material for self-observation both in formal class and in my practice where I am both teacher and student.
And as rich and meaningful as the classroom environment is, and as much as I believe in its potential for transformation and growth, I personally want to change some of the way yoga gets presented in the average classes and workshops and just take it down a notch. I know I can't make a global change but I can change the way I talk about the poses, about alignment and about what is possible in a general class and I did that a lot over the weekend.
For instance-- Why does one practice, like asana, have to be both PT and gymnastics? Why do people look at scorpion pose and expect it to not flatten their thoracic spine? (I am not saying that the pose has to do that but I am saying if you want to practice it, don't ask it to be what it isn't.) It seems obvious to me that some postures maintain very healthy curves of the spine and work with a very normal range of motion and it is fine to see those postures as therapy. But seriously, other poses are part of different endeavor, in my opinion, that might best be summed up as "self-observation at the edges of what is safe, normal, and reasonable." Some of the advanced stuff, is so far from therapeutic that it would be better to claim in big letters- "THIS POSE IS DANGEROUS. If you have skill, you can mitigate those dangers and live to tell the tale and perhaps push the boundaries of your understanding about who you are as a physical being. But do not be confused, these poses are not necessarily going to conform to any semblance of anatomical neutral!"
Why can't we just acknowledge that well, the poses are risky and we can't promise that anyone will stay safe if they do them?
Why can't we make some distinctions about what is realistic to expect in a group class? I mean, really, even if there are some general principles of alignment that are reliably good for most people there is no way for one teacher to tell a group of 6-200 students one set of instructions that will work for everyone. Those general instructions have to applied to each person's specific situation to bring optimal balance to that person's structure within any given pose. That process is not a general endeavor but as teachers we have to speak in generalities because it is a general class. Do not get me wrong here- I have no issue with generalities. I have an issue that yoga teachers often claim, and yoga students often believe, that these general instructions are specific and that confusion leads to a host of problems for both the teacher and the student. And there is no way for one teacher, no matter how good their observations skills are, to monitor everyone's specific performance in a general class and to make sure everyone's needs are met. Impossible.
I could go on and on and on and then this blog entry would end up being more of a rant than I intended it to be this morning. Really, NONE of this is in itself a problem for me. I just find the lack of clarity around these types of issues are often breeding problems. Mature discernment, to me, means that we bring common sense to yoga and catch ourselves, our students and our teachers when we hear magical thinking like "yoga will heal everything" and "if you believe it it will happen" and "this brand-new alignment will keep you from needing a hip replacement" and "if you do good alignment you will never get injured" and "yoga is better than medicine" and "green juice, raw food, smoothies and supplements will fix all your problems" and so on.
I mean, really, this awesome path of being human is more complex than any quote posted on Facebook or any Twitter update can capture, no matter how inspirational it seems at the moment. Learning how to apply yoga- inside and out, in all of its paradoxical glory, to our unique situation so that we evolve and grow stronger, more resilient and more capable of making distinctions about what serves and what does not is not the stuff of a weekend workshop, it is the stuff of life.
And that, well, it takes a lifetime.
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