Wednesday, October 15, 2008

the rant continues

From my email this morning about yesterday's post:

There are not many teachers of Anusara Yoga at Yoga Yoga.....I can only think of a handful. Anyways I've never heard any of them be disrespectful of other traditions in the classroom. I of course have not been to all their classes....But I am astonished and surprised, when I think of who teaches Anusara Yoga , that they would purposefully call out Ashtangi's and "shame" them.... I find it so very hard to believe that any of our teachers would "shame" anyone who comes into their class. If this is really happening, to the degree of intensity that you write, then I feel so sad. What I love about Yoga Yoga is our variety of styles with a strong thread of community. I'm just wondering if myself and other YY Anusara teachers enthusiasm for the system is sometimes mistaken for demanding conversion.

To be clear, my rant was in response to conversations I had on the road, not locally. I had several conversations with Ashtanga Yoga practitioners while I was on the road that really blew me away. Locally, YY fosters a lot of cross-pollination (another story, for another time!) and alot of respect across traditions.

Also I do want to be clear that if an Ashtanga practitioner comes to my class, I expect them to be my student for that class and to want to learn from me and to be willing to do it "my way" while they are in my class. I am not interested in catering to their expectation that what I am offering must fit into their format, etc. But that is another rant. (Like one time I had a student come to class and pretty much claim "it is not real yoga without 5 surya namaskar A's and 5 surya namaskar B's and the efficacy of the practice is destroyed with a demo" etc. But that is just one person's ignorance and not representative of the overall culture of YogaYoga (Or Ashtanga for that matter) which is really one of the most cohesive, cross-pollinated studios I have ever been part of.)

I also agree that the whole issue of "right" is a big thing and that there are typically several "right"answers. (See comments from yesterday where this got started.) Even for finite things like the body. For instance how Iyengar Yogi's go after opening the hips and how Anusara Yogi's go after opening the hips is both similar and different. Both agree that the femur needs to root and the groins need to descend and the femur needs to turn strongly from its set position. That is an agreement on the finite aspect of things- on the task at hand. But they disagree on means. How one actually does that, in what order and also about how they describe it is a bit different. And I think they are both right. There is more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak. More than one right way to open the hips and get the finite job done.

Really, it is a big issue. The other thing to keep in mind is that sometimes alignment methods criticize breath-based methods for not aligning the body optimally. And alignment based methods get criticized for not emphasizing the breath and so forth. Both systems agree that the task at hand is to culture the consciousness through the means of the body and through the practice of asana. They just disagree on the primary technology of said culturing. A system like Ashtanga emphasizes a kind of "absorption with the breath, gaze and movement" to get after the mind and a system like Iyengar Yoga emphasizes "bringing the consciousness into the body through precise, skillful actions of penetration." And so forth. Each method does what it is setting out to do brilliantly. Both methods arrive at a "Culturing of the Being" brilliantly. They can both be right.

Another example of this, from Iyengar Yoga Land and Gabriella Gubilarro when she was teaching in Austin. She was teaching back bends and someone went into a forward bend mid-practice. She stopped the class and gave a lovely teaching about how, in Iyengar Yoga, they do not do that. They are trying to do back bends without heating the body and repeatedly bending forward and backwards heats the body. She compared it to other methods who use forward and back bending throughout their practice for the sole purpose of heating the body. (think Ashtanga, think Bikram.) I thought this was brilliant. I mean you can debate all day whether or not the body should get heated or not, but her basic stance was that it should not and she was using finite, skillful means to move in integrity with said vision. In Ashtanga, they believe the heat is the purificatory means and so they are moving forward (and backwards!) skillfully to that end. In Anusara Yoga we think sometimes one should heat and sometimes one should not- that it depends!

Anusara actually adds a different component to the whole formula because we actually see our yogic task as not simply stilling the mind but "knowing the self and expressing the knowledge". We are actually endeavoring to celebrate and express through the medium of the body, not simply to still the mind. And while our philosophies agree that one way to know the self is through a still mind, they also teach us that another equally valid way to know the self is through its disturbances. Another way to know the self is in relationship to others. And so on.

So my rant from yesterday is not really as much a debate about methods, as much as it was an impassioned plea for teachers to keep psychology in mind when we teach. It is kind of teacher training piece, really. How often do new Anusara Yoga teachers ask me "how do you get people to want to learn the alignment?" Invariably new Anusara Yoga teachers are teaching alignment with an emphasis on "this is the right way" or "do it this way or you will get hurt." My point is that for people who care about doing something the "right way" this will work, but not for the rebels and free-thinkers in the room.

For those people already injured or injured previously, the threat of injury will work, but not for the people with high pain thresholds, or who are young and have never been hurt, or for people who do not expect to live without pain.

My point is you can also inspire people to use the UPA's by showing them how the alignment takes you deeper into poses and how it can help you advance your practice. (This will not work if you, as a teacher, have not advanced your own practice in this way, however, so get to work on the level 2 and 3 syllabus if you haven't!) And it will not work with people who have no interest in advanced postures. For instance don't tell the average 68-year old student new to yoga that if they can really get a good shoulder loop, they can do a drop back. That will not typically inspire them! (I learned this the hard way, by the way.) Talk to them about having a strong back, facing the future with resiliency, dignity and an open heart.

My point is however, that something will inspire each person in the room and it will not always be the things that inspire us. If we are not getting results from our students- if they are not moving closer and closer to optimal alignment in our classes-- maybe it is partly because we have not found the right thing to inspire them. (And they have to meet us half way of course. It is not all up to us by any means.)

okay, another long entry and I have inspired myself to want to go practice yet again. I like it all- the flow, the breath, the precision, the tricks, the basics, the celebration, the introspection. The joy of it goes on and on.

1 comment:

Anne-Marie Bowery said...

A long, long time ago, I went to a Donna Farhi workshop with my first yoga teacher Walter. It was very clear she had had a negative experience with Iyengar yoga and really saw it as this rigid thing. I had just started to glimpse Iyengar yoga at the time and I remember thinking, wow, that is just so not my experience of it. I told that to Walter and he said, "you are lucky." I think a lot of rightness and rigidity may just simply have to do with fit... We find a style that fits us, suits us and we forget that it doesn't suit others... there's more to say. My own post on rightness is forming. Love, A