“What type of Yoga do you teach?”
I am asked this all the time.
There are so many great class descriptions other teachers use, and none of them quite describe it:
Slow is the New Advanced
Slow Yoga Revolution
Slower is Stronger
Fundamentals of Yoga
Back to Basics
I am one of those people who pushed myself way too far in my 20s, 30s and early 40’s, basically because I could. While I wasn’t one who was able to maneuver into Scorpion or full lotus, I did often force my body to “lesser” extreme poses, and to work harder than what was good for me. In my late 40’s, I have begun to feel the consequences of those actions.
Consciously, I didn’t sign up at the age of 21 to be a guinea pig for the benefit of my future students, but the present day challenges and instabilities I acquired from over-practicing have given me a lot of knowledge and made me a much better teacher.
In the Yoga tradition, Asana practice was intended to calm and soothe the nervous system; to prepare the body to sit and the mind to be less active in meditation. Asana was not designed to make us sweat or lose weight. I have nothing against exercise. At the time, I really enjoyed the physical yoga that gave me a workout and a work-in…killing two birds with one stone (the perfect metaphor for overdoing it). Now I try to sweat every day by taking a brisk walk and have even begun running again. But that is not why I step onto my mat anymore. What Asana does best is to heal and balance our bodies and psyches from the daily demands that often deplete us.
There is a vigorous, how-far-can-you-go mentality prevalent in Asana classes in the U.S. It amazes me what people are doing to their bodies to “sell” Yoga. This pushing (just because you can) to extremes is simply a mirror of what we are doing in other aspects of our lives. The Yoga (Asana) I see being promoted– fast-paced, hot, detoxifying, overstimulating only serves to imprint the same habits that push us to seek a Yoga practice in the first place.
Long time Yoga teacher and podcaster J brown writes:
…the conventional attitude is that in order to progress in practice it is necessary to take your body past your perceived physical edge. Not taking your body past its physical edge is often seen as lazy or resistant. The practice is a way to challenge ourselves to do more, to reach fuller potential. And certainly, this mentality is proven effective in many pursuits. If you’re going to run marathons or perform gymnastic feats, then some amount of no pain no gain is likely going to be required to accomplish that task. But if what we are after is functional body health, where our bodies can do what we need them to do in our lives with as little pain as possible, then a see-how-far-we-can-push the limits mentality is absolutely counterproductive.
So when I’m asked, “What style of Yoga do you teach?” my response goes something like this,
It’s a class for everyone. I teach a slow, mindful approach. Some people find it physically challenging; others find it mentally strenuous. Please come and give it a try and decide for yourself. Come and simply be open and curious.
How do you sum that up in a word or two, for the schedule/website?
“What is it I want to experience from the practice?”
And then provide time for them to listen for the answers.
Do they want to sweat? To become more flexible? Are they hoping to build more strength? Do they have chronic pain they want relief from? Do they want to learn tools to help with stress? Do they covet time away from responsibilities to turn inward? They may come for one of these possibilities and discover something completely different beginning to unfold. The Yoga I teach takes the emphasis off achieving something (you think you need) and puts value more on experiencing something (you probably do need). It’s about the ability to make the space for inquiry.
Over the past 28 years of practice and teaching, I’ve observed myself evolve from the “push-because-I-can” approach to understanding that a deeper Asana practice develops only when we allow a natural unfolding.
I no longer practice to “get that sweat,” but with the intention to make my movements as mindful, and purposeful and sustainable as possible. I want to feel good doing yoga for the rest of my life, and I want to move through the world gracefully as I walk this path with the students I am so grateful to teach and learn from.