Friday, November 05, 2010

Knowing and/or Not Knowing

I am not a religious person. At least not in the sense that I attend a service regularly, or follow any specific texts, or can verbalize how my world is controlled by something greater than me. I have strong beliefs about a variety of things and my own explanation for how "it" all works, but I keep that to myself. I think religion and spirituality are such intensely personal systems, that I don't want to talk about them or, frankly, hear about them. I'm glad people believe--I probably don't believe the same thing--but if it makes them act in a kind and considerate manner, I'm all for it.

Charlotte Bell wrote a beautiful post (and had lovely responses to the comments) at elephant journal last week about yoga evangelism, that I found very inspiring--both in how I think about yoga, but also how I teach it. It sort of fits in with my analogy of yoga as a language--many different dialects, same grammar. One isn't better than the other (I exclude goofy hybrids that seem to be mostly about monetizing the practice); certain types resonate more than others, depending on the practitioner. But, as Bell notes, once you've been bitten by the yoga bug (drunk the kool-aid?), it's very hard not to proselytize. To be Born Again and want everyone else to be saved as well.

I certainly can relate to the urge to convert. And I wish most people would at least try yoga once, willingly, but I keep that to myself.

Since I don't want to be preached at, I find myself drawn to low-key classes, without a lot of extraneous discussion. More action and contemplation, and less talk. I can chose to study with a Master, or read a text, but when I go to my usual class I just want Hatha. Maybe Pranayama, but I don't really need to hear about the other limbs. I almost feel like those are my own responsibility to deal with, by myself, at a time when I'm not distracted by other people or activities. It can all come back to inform my practice, but just quietly in my head, not my ears.

So, that's how I teach. I may touch on other topics, but very little and rarely. I don't really feel qualified to teach yoga philosophy, and I think those are things best explored alone or, at least, in a different atmosphere than a hatha class. I think the physical work brings you to a place where you are more open to the philosophy and it makes sense, but I think the student needs to take it from there. I can give suggestions, but I'm not ready to lead. And I'm not sure I want to--back to the whole intensely personal thing.

Am I still teaching yoga? I think so. I see my students start to change and hear them talk about ways of thinking, that indicate something else is going on beyond increased flexibility. Maybe they don't have the vocabulary to describe it yogically, but I'm pretty sure they Know.

So when I say Namaste, I mean it, but I'm not going to elaborate, either...

13 comments:

Melissa Garvey said...

I like your approach. Yoga began for me with a physical practice and evolved into something more through personal exploration and classes. I do appreciate being able to discuss yoga practice/philosophy applied to everyday life in a group of yogis. Just sharing personal experiences and insights can be so refreshing. But yes, a hatha class is not always the best setting for that to occur.

Kristin said...

So very eloquently written Brenda, and I feel the *exact* same way (but with a vinyasa class...).

Namaste.

Kat said...

I share your outlook. My students come for a workout and I feel qualified to give them that. I do not feel qualified to discuss philosophy, nor do they want that.

YogaforCynics said...

As a very irreligious yogi, I'm actually a big fan of "Namaste"--since, the way I see it (and my Quaker upbringing probably plays a part in this) when we say that to each other in yoga class, it means "I honor the sacred in you, period--regardless of whether you're some major religious yoga guru or somebody who got dragged to class by his girlfriend and think it's all crap...." (And, in fact, should I ever teach a yoga class...a possibility that's becoming somewhat real as I consider doing a teacher training next year...I'll probably elaborate on it in words similar to that...).

Liz said...

I appreciate your approach not to push your views on anyone else. Although sometimes I enjoy hearing about other people's experiences and spiritual journeys, as long as there's no expectation I follow the same path. As a beginner yogi, I have done some exploration of the other limbs on my own, but there's no substitute for hearing about it in person from someone who has experienced it.

YogaGal in the NW said...

I feel the same way too. I teach from the heart but I leave the philosophy to others. Just not my forte.

Great post as always.

Brenda P. said...

Thanks, all. I have enjoyed teachers that successfully slip in some philosophy or Gita, etc., but it would just be phony with me.

@Jay: With namaste, like schadenfreude or prego, I love the wealth of meaning in a single word. So economical!

Jenn said...

Once again Brenda...it's like you took the thoughts from my head and put them into lovely, thoughtful words. I'm spiritual...yes. Religious...no. I respect people's individual paths and all I ask is that respect in return...without the preaching from either party.

I too do most of my study of yoga philosophy on my own. I always have. And rarely do we get into philosophy in class...unless someone asks me about something specific. And while I personally, now after many years of practice, don't mind when a very knowledgeable teacher talks philosophy in a class. Doing so when I teach would, like many others here, feel a bit fake. I know the body. My body "knows" the practice. My mind is not ready to share the philosophy.

Jen said...

Thanks for your thoughts and for sharing Charlotte Bell's article. While I love yoga and know that it has made me a kinder, gentler person, I respect that other people may choose different paths to get to the same place. I rarely teach philosophy in an asana class, although I have assigned yoga philosophy readings in some of my college classes. To my great surprise, the students really enjoyed them and engaged with them.

Mirella said...

This is an interesting topic you bring up. While I personally love to weave yogic philosophy into my yoga classes I can appreciate that some students may not be interested. When teaching beginners or teaching at a community center I tend to keep the discussion to a minimum. I agree deeper study is up to the student but I feel like introducing the other limbs is important. I really appreciate your honesty.

charlotte bell said...

Hi Brenda, Thanks so much for your thoughtful elaboration about "yoga evangelism." Thanks also for letting people know about my article.

I've been studying the sutras with a study partner for about five years. We meet about once a month and ponder three to five of them at a time. We use many different translations. Using lots of translations helps you realize just how open to interpretation the philosophy is. I think that where we are in our lives when we read the sutras, the Gita, or any sacred text, influences how we interpret them.

I don't teach the sutras formally either. But occasionally a concept from the sutras slips into what I say in my yoga classes. If you dig deep into it, it's easy to see that yoga philosophy is very applicable to our lives.

alice's adventures said...

Very nice thoughts! As a yoga teacher, I love to share the things I am studying, and learning, but I try to keep it concise, and "spiritually-neutral". However recently at a book club meeting we discussed a book I chose about the Soul. It made me realize how much I am attached to the sharing as a teacher, but not the feedback from dissenting opinions. Eye-opening indeed!

yoga business said...

I certainly hope I am not proselytizing when I'm sharing my enthusiasm... But after many years of practice I'm a bit more low key now!