Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Playing With Yoga

Between turkey, colds, stomach viruses and writing another article for My Yoga Mentor (Yoga Journal's online newsletter for teachers), GTTSB took a pretty big hit. Sorry it's been awhile.

The article had the working title "Playing with Yoga" and was inspired by a Sept. 2007 YJ article called "More Fun." It was about various yoga hybrids out there (Acro-yog--acrobatics and yoga; trance dance; slack-line yoga--yoga on a tightrope) and I thought it might be interesting to talk to some of these people and see what advice they had for teachers. I was also a bit skeptical, since I wonder how much this kind of combining dilutes the original practice.

I've been convinced, however. I heartily agree with Yoga Dawg that a lot of the yoga community takes itself waaay too seriously. Playing around with asana is nothing new (where would Iyengar yoga be, if B.K.S. hadn't developed all his modifications) and being light-hearted with the results makes it all a bit more palatable to our Western hearts.
As I see it, whatever makes it compelling and helps you practice more should be celebrated. It is a testament to the discipline that it can handle all these variations and still deliver strength, flexibility and calm to its practitioners.

I really liked what Leah Kalish of YogaEd had to say about setting a context for asana when teaching to kids. She trains teachers to create an environment where kids are empowered by learning the mind-body connection; they do art projects (make a "centering box" filled with things that help you feel calm and in control), create music (what does good balancing music sound like?), play games and do yoga. I like the idea of creating a context for asana, so that the class has a theme, rather than just doing leg work or balancing poses. I think students of all ages respond well to this and it gives yoga a purpose and connects it to real life, which is very important to beginners.

I usually organized my classes by what part of the body is being focussed on and discuss how the physiology of the body responds to various asana (hip openers open hips, obviously, but also open up the lower back so that ending the class with some gentle twists might be the logical progression from Baddha Konasana, for example). But maybe something even broader might be interesting...what happens to the shoulders when you focus on thighs, how do high energy poses lead to greater calmness, etc. Or maybe even something silly, like how does 70s soul affect the practice (I'm not sure I have the guts to try that out in the classroom, but one of my best home practices ever was to Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra).

What do you think about yoga hybrids and playing with yoga? Do you or don't you? I'm all ears...


Kristin said...

Frist, I hope everyone is feeling better in your household.

Next, I find your questions about yoga play fascinating - to follow “tradition” or to “make it your own”. But what is tradition? As you touched on, Krishnamacharya taught (amongst others) Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga), BKS Iynegar (Iyengar), Indra Devi, and TKV Desickachar (vinyasa). They all deviated from Krishnamacharya’s original instruction and made it their own.

I have seen this yoga snobbery in the Ashtanga practice: you aren’t worth your mat if you aren’t practicing the “true traditional method as taught by Jois” and it makes me so irritated. Isn’t one aspect of yoga is you take it and make it your own? If one were to practice the “true Ashtanga practice” then you would have to be male, 13, and living in India. If I were to attempt to teach the “true Ashtanga practice” I wouldn’t have any students because they would be turned off by all the Sanscrit chanting and counting. I’m not a Sanscrit scholar and I don’t practice Hinduism to feel qualified to lead those chants.

Instead, I have taken the practice as I learned it (in English) and adapted it to accommodate a wide variety of students. Further, I’ve started playing around with a vinyasa flow class and I am loving it! To take all the different postures and link them together to move fluidly from asana to asana with the breath is soooo much fun! And to teach to all different levels challenges me and the students.

I smiled at your music comments - usually I don’t play any music because we’re supposed to be focusing on our breath. And for some reason people kinda expect the etheral tones of Deva Primal or drums of Krishna Das. However, I recently attended a class in the Cities where the instructor quietly played a really cool mixture of, well, 70's music (not disco). I think I really noticed it when Eric Clapton was crooning “I shot the Sheriff” in the background. I was like, this is so cool!

So yes, we should play with our yoga and keep our hearts light! It keeps us from getting to serious...

Linda (Sama) said...

I have mixed feelings about the "yoga mixes". some are OK, some are just stupid in my opinion. "Iron Yoga" = yoga with weights? give me a break.

as a former fitness instructor -- and I always taught much more yoga than I ever taught fitness classes -- I think these yoga mixes speak more towards the western mindset that is always looking for the "next big thing" or for the next trend. it's like what is tried and true is never good enough, it always has to be made sexier. something always has to be tweaked in order to help keep our monkey minds focused on it for more than two minutes. gee, that vinyasa class doesn't work "fast enough" so let's see if the "yoga butt" class will give me a tight ass.

this is the fitness industry's influence on western yoga hence a company like YogaFit. it's just the way it's always been in the fitness industry. remember the Slide? that trend lasted about 6 months!

as for Krishnamacharya, et. al., I study at the mandiram in Chennai, India. Krishnamacharya taught the way he did to Jois and Iyengar, based on their constitutions. Sri Krishnamacharya taught differently to everyone based on the individual, that was the beauty of his teaching. Desikachar, his son, teaches the closest to what his father taught. So to say that they "deviated" from the original teachings is not really accurate.

Ladyhawke said...

Seems to me lightheartedness is one of the marks of a yogic lifestyle. I'm beginning to read the Gita again right now, and I'm noticing that devotion is the context that allows one to be detached while acting in the world, not a demand for snobbish attachment.

The Truth: said...

I believe one of the greatest aspects of yoga is the ability of the practitioner to create a yogic lifestyle, as meanderingly or divingly as they choose. Just as our ability in our practice changes daily (one day you can spring into a handstand the next you can't convince your hips to let you into a forward bend), so do our needs. We might find that at a particular point in our lives we need structure and repetition (Ashtanga, Bikram...) and at another time we need the freedom to move as we please (Vinyasa Flow etc.) We might also find that our practice has reached a new level and we are ready to find someone or something who can help us get there... which really is the basis for Yoga to begin with... We know we can be healthy, we know we can be fit, we know our bodies can do so much more than we allow, we know there must be something more, and Yoga helps get us there, all of us.

Instead of considering it "deviation" or "combinations" or "hybrids", why not consider it Yoga. All of these things are simply paths along the same purpose, and they all arrive at the same destination, albeit some with tighter abs. And nobody is in the same condition as anyone else when they arrive, so what is the concern with how somebody else chooses to travel?

Not every BODY can do the same things, hence the many different styles... it's kinda like clothes. If we all walked around wearing the same style in the same size, well, most of us would look absolutely ridiculous while a select few would feel as if the world was made for them. Half of us would have our dangling sleeves caught in dangerous machinery, some would be bound so tight they couldn't lift their arms...

Which brings me to meditation. You might be taught to meditate a specific way, but what it boils down to is... do what ever will allow you to still yourself, whenever you can. Nobody walks around knocking on doors saying "you're meditating wrong." And nobody is a certified Meditator.

As far as certifications are concerned, I think a basic test including safety, basic anatomy, common poses and actual teaching ability, would be beneficial for the general public and places of broad consumption such as gyms and medical venues (good luck btw). But as clearly pointed out by some of your readers and my teacher as well, just because you pass doesn't mean you're a good teacher, and just because you're a good teacher doesn't mean you'll pass. That's where the good ol' trial and error comes in.

What's right for me isn't necessarily right for you. So it's a blessing there is so much to choose from.