Friday, November 19, 2010

Yoga 2.0

The revolution may be blog-ivized. Each month brings a new set of revelations/discussions/confrontations on the interwebs about the state of yoga, and it is fascinating. Commodification, teacher training, and, now, what the ancients were really saying (or not). Carole H. has given the matter a lot of thought (Fakirs and Oprah-fication); Susan M. converses with various scholars (Mark Singleton and David Gordon White) about yogis, Pantanjali, the sutras, and the scene in India B.C.E; Jill Miller weighs in on The gals at Recovering Yogi have no patience for any of it. Good stuff. Check it out, report back.

I remember reading an article in Yoga Journal awhile back about the history of yoga
, which pointed out that most of the poses we do are only about 150 yrs. old. Still being a bit new to the literature, I found that rather surprising, but also very comforting. Okay, my reluctance to chant and expound on the niyamas wasn't completely out of line...most of my practice was fairly removed from the more mystical elements of yoga. And definitely my teaching (as I've said).

I felt unsure about my mastery of the texts, how I didn't really understand a lot of them and didn't have the proper framework to consider their relationship to what I thought was yoga. Scholars spend their whole careers studying this information, how could I possibly measure up. Now, the scholars are providing useful explanations and maybe it's the gurus who are a bit confused.

Remember, yoga is not a religion (and if you forget, reread Charlotte Bell's post). The ancient texts were very organic and definitely not set in stone. Much of the tradition was oral. No one has a direct line on Pantanjali's purpose for writing the sutras or how it relates to our practice of yoga today. There is no Truth that only adherents are privy to. As with much of human endeavor, it's all a part of the messy political and social agendas of the times--then and now.

Of course I'm not saying yoga is just asana. Or that anyone is off the hook for knowing the eight limbs or having a meditation practice. Or that anything can be yoga. But I love that it feels like (post) modern yoga about to be the next, big wiki-project. What do we keep? What no longer makes sense? Who are the false prophets, the sacred cows who no longer enthrall? Who is going to represent?

This latest round of discussion seems more thoughtful and erudite (only one commenter suggested Jill needed to do more yoga)--or maybe we've just lost the crowd who googles "naked yoga."

Anyway, there's a lot to consider, and I'm sure we're only just starting. But still, I kind of feel like we're at the cusp of something new, don't you?

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner...

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...