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The Downs and Ups of Yoga

If I've learned anything in this lifetime, it's that rarely is something either all good or all bad. Now that's heady stuff for someone who has the tendency to be an all-or-nothing kind of gal. I certainly did apply the all-or-nothing approach to yoga. I thought it was all good.

Years went by and I realized that wasn't necessarily true. There were folks who practiced obsessively, gurus who took advantage of students, careless teachers, lines crossed between students and teachers, greed, and abuse of power. Yoga is what it is, but us regular folk like to go in there and muck it up, sometimes corrupting it.

Follow the Leader
Have you ever injured yourself in a yoga class trying to keep up with the teacher or your fellow students? Early on in my yoga practice, I noticed a disconcerting tendency I had to follow the leader -- without checking in with my body. After recognizing this in myself, I stopped going to class, choosing to practice at home or one-on-one with a teacher. After a while I learned how to tune into myself rather than others to the point that I could be in a yoga class without being overly influenced by the teacher or other students in class. Competition and the desire to keep up with (or exceed) other students faded away.

While I understand the importance of yoga teachers (after all, I am one), I still find myself resonating most with the idea that yoga is a very personal practice.

No Adjustments Necessary
As someone who works with clients I always try to remember that regardless of all of my training, I am not the foremost authority on my students' bodies (it's funny how human bodies don't always match up to textbooks - har, har, har). When I first started teaching, I thought that I always needed to have all the answers.

My ego was wanting supremacy. I calmed my ego by remembering the times that a teacher pushed me beyond where I should have gone -- and I don't mean that in a good way. Rather than blindly follow a teacher, I always make sure to check in with myself to observe how I'm feeling. Sometimes you need a push and other times a push is exactly what you don't need. Knowing the difference is important not just in one's yoga practice but in life.

I never adjust my students. Rather than move their bodies how I think they should look in a pose, I lay my hands on their bodies to bring awareness to what's going on in their bodies. I may suggest a movement but I don't force it on them. This is a hotly debated subject in yoga -- to adjust or not to adjust. Click here to read a recent NY Times article about this very topic.

I've spoken to a number of teachers who believe that it's their job to "help" students achieve the "correct" (i.e. perfect) alignment in a pose. It's true, I've seen students' confidence soar when  mastering a pose. And since it's believed that where the body goes, the mind follows perfection in asana can make a student feel pretty damned good. Is perfection the aim of asana? I guess that's for each student to decide.

The Yoga Ego
I'm ashamed to admit that I have been a yoga snob. I've judged teachers for being too commercial or too focused on physical fitness rather than true yoga (or my definition of it, anyway) or not being a yoga purist. Hmmmm...what, exactly, is a yoga purist? Is a student who's studied in India more of a yogi than someone who's practicing to DVDs at home? If you make lots of money teaching yoga, does that mean you're a sell-out? I don't have the answers to these questions, as I'm not the authority on yoga (I'm just a humble little blogger/yoga teacher). I have my opinions, but they don't make me right.

Yoga can be polarizing. There are some who follow what they believe is a true yoga lifestyle -- they recycle, they spend time in India, they are vegetarian or vegan, their clothes are made of natural fibers, they watch their carbon footprint. Then there are others who don't see the issue with wolfing down a steak and thinking that yoga is going to get them tighter buns and ripped abs. Suffice to say, there's a spectrum. And wherever one falls on that spectrum is okay. After all, are the Yoga Police going to come after you if you're not "yogic" enough?

Just recently I adopted the practice and let practice mindset. Who am I to say that a teacher who's promising ultimate fat loss is less of a yogi than I am? Last month, on particular yogi who comes under attack on a regular basis (hint, hint -- Tara Stiles) was featured in the NY Times, who labeled her a "yoga rebel." In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not a fan of Tara's. My ego likes to think that she's missing the whole point of yoga. But, seriously, who am I to say? Rather than judge her, I just go about my business, teaching how I feel is the most authentic to me, realizing that everyone has a different style (which explains why there are so many yoga teachers in the world). If we all love yoga, can't we just get along? Carol Horton muses over this very question in her excellent blog post, Writing Yoga: The Blogosphere as Collective Practice. She brings up an excellent point about differences and how we perceive them.

I'll give a non-yoga example that illustrates this very idea. A friend of mine has been married to her husband for just shy of a decade. Throughout their dating years and into some of her marriage, my friend's in-laws continually pointed out her differences from the rest of the family. This was done in a joking manner, with no malice behind it. Still, every time she was in the presence of her in-laws, they would point out that she didn't eat/drink/like what they did. Although her in-laws are extremely nice people, my friend doesn't feel too warmly towards them. When asked why, she responded, "The continual emphasis on how I was different from them made me feel bad, almost like I didn't belong. Perhaps I'm oversensitive but I think that focusing on differences causes separateness rather than a sense of love and acceptance. And they've done a bang-up job -- I feel totally separate from them." Hmmmm...enough said.

Now lest you get the idea that I've turned into a pessimist, I will say that there's plenty awesome about yoga. I've met (and practiced with) some amazing teachers and students and the practice itself has brought much to my life in terms of experiences, people, and health (mental, physical, and otherwise). I'm just saying -- it's not all good or all bad. That's my yoga musing for the day.

And since I'm still an optimistic kind of gal who likes to end on a high note, here's a fun little video that shows the joys of a home practice (especially when pets get into the mix):

Yep, everyone needs Savasana (in fact, I'd be tempted to say that Savasana is all good)!



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