The following is a response to this post and comments from linkedIn which do not appear here.
Yoga Teacher and Therapist at Just Be Yoga
Hi Leo, its so nice to read and know that there are people teaching Yoga whom are not fixated on the way a pose LOOKS!... In the west I feel it has become very Iyengar based , allowing very little room for the individual to tune into themselves and allow them to express the pose in their own way,...without pulling and pushing themselves into "the look". Each body is unique. I am currently trying to teach this to new and old yoga students and its sometimes met with resistance, as they are fearful of getting IT (the pose) wrong... and looking wrong.. If you can give me any further information Internet based or other, that I can share regarding this topic, I would appreciate that very much. Namaste and thank you for sharing..
Yes there is often a lot of resistance, yet it’s a good sign that we maybe be confronting a very limiting strategy. So we need quite some skill to deal with this. Firstly acceptance, of what we are presented and of what lies beneath.
I used to see dealing with the scenario you describe as an Iyengar based practice rather a challenge. But actually its a great opportunity presenting itself. We may sometimes have to deal with why it feels so close to home, and we often miss this check. If this check doesn't happen, we often try to impose our own ‘better’ version. As parents we are also sometimes confronted by what our children present us with, if we don't deal with how this often challenges us, we circumvent it and again impose our will. In some strange way I quite like the way that I have often felt Iyengar teachers impose such a clear way of doing something, at least its up-front. Although it can be very challenging to meet this since not all of us have learnt the skill necessary, and ability to self reference - I think that the teacher needs to empower the student to find some equality here, its a skill they need to learn.
This maybe has something to do with the old phenomena - ‘authority of experience’, who is traditionally outside. How we have be conditioned to give away our power, or simply to trust and not question. But this can be a negation of our own intuition and having the space to explore what our own 'self regulating core' (as Stephen Levine puts it) might tell us. This authority of experience used to be the priest or the doctor. Since having recently both been dethroned they’ve been amalgamated, within our urban culture, into the yoga teacher - sorry I have to snigger here. Then there’s usually a power struggle between the authority figures - politics almost always enters the yoga world, its the same in Martial Arts and Bodywork. I’ll never forget how, in my teacher training, when one trainer was instructing, the others trainers used to wriggle and squirm uncomfortably.
When we’re confronted with another’s ridged beliefs, we are often caught simply reacting, locking horns. Thinking, or should I say feeling, that our beliefs are better more righteous than the others. Yet the ego doesn’t know of its of its blind spot, that something has been allowed to manifest to such an extent because of this obliviousness. In this case the something is rigidly held beliefs and an over grasping on information. But there’s a pay-off to this, a closeted state seems untouchable and feels safe – of course a precarious illusion that the exaggerated reactivity of these people often bears witness to.
Once we name the game it’s more difficult to maintain. Though how we manage the process of confronting limited beliefs, habits and identification is rather delicate. Building support and respecting timing are essential factors. In yoga we often short cut this process and are given the information about how to do the Asanas, yet we haven’t earned it, we’ve missed the necessary step by step learning, passing through threshold after threshold, the rite of passage. Its a cultural blind spot, we wanted to consume and do all the postures and breathing techniques, but as in our consumer culture we got cheated of the real nourishment. If teachers are not equipped they may give their students what they think they want, who is left to set the tone, to ask the important questions?
Timing is tricky for many reasons, let alone because of over ambition, I don’t think any teacher can presume to always know someone else’s next step. So I think we have to teach this skill to the student, ah but there we would have to understand this ourselves, learning to accept and not judge – or to see that when we do judge its simply telling us about our state of ‘mind’. So in this process we are relying on the intelligence of differentiation, an intelligence that has been dumbed down for centuries in countless cultures, from East to West.
Building a sustainable support is also a fine art. Physically and psychologically that means ‘Core’ – again one of the most misunderstood and dumbed down phenomena of recent years. Yet there is so much wisdom to this process, even the great philosopher Nietzsche was testament to this, he said something like – ‘there is more wisdom in the body than in our deepest philosophy’ – now that could keep us on our toes! In the face of this, to circumvent this process seems to me to be one of the biggest insult to ourselves our culture could manage.
So learning support and timing means there are sufficient qualities of presence - a useful guide to follow. It’s not nourishing or empowering to overwhelm, to take on more than we are ready. The classic example was in the way that Vietnam veterans we therapised by re-experiencing their trauma - this not only re-traumatised them but it vicariously traumatised the therapists. If we learn to listen to the intelligence of the Self, it guides us through this process. This we can do better when we’ve done a lot of self-reflection and gone through the process ourselves many times. Something that does not exist in most ‘teacher trainings’. It’s almost a sin, how those that may know better send out young teachers so ill prepared and unsupported. They will naively be confronted with real people in real situations they are no way able to deal with - and as a consequences grasp even more rigidly to their knowledge and beliefs (a great money making system by the way – get more training why not!). So instead of learning to welcome what presents itself in class as an opportunity, their experience is often in contrast; a negation of presence and a betrayal to the intelligence of the self – rather a drastic scenario wouldn’t you say, a sorry state we’ve gotten yoga into!
I was sadly disappointed by my yoga teacher training and my bodywork training, neither took in any way sufficient account for this process and the concomitant support needed. ‘Playing’ at something so vital and important is not something I take lightly. I’m very glad to have had a good experience of how, in part, it can be done well - when I trained in Psychosynthesis we had plenty of supervision. It may be great that yoga has bloomed in the world, but it may also be time for a bit of diligent pruning. Its much too easy to become a yoga teacher, we can do so with almost none of the skills we actually need for the job, gives me the shivers!
We need to build the capacity for support, or presence, in our own process – and then empower other to do this. Then people can experience what their choice costs them and explore what other choices may offer. If someone would keep a McDonalds in their mouth for long enough, I’m pretty sure they will know whether to spit it out or swallow! I leave it up to them to choose. So often in life we are challenged to differentiate, yet its not the end knowledge that’s useful – what is the base of many yoga styles - but the capacity to go through a process, and if we’re lucky, to discover what the appropriate action is in the moment.
As teachers we are challenged in our beliefs and understanding of life processes. If we don’t see the opportunity that presents itself in this kind of situation, it may be because its a little too close to home. But this is normal, most of us are not the Dalai Lama or Buddha, and its how we deal with our own fallibility that usually counts most. If we expect our students to go through a process we are not willing to, we become charlatans. 1 If we sit back for too long cosseted by an identification of the perfect yoga teacher, with a smooth gravy like voice and smelling only of incense, we may provide refuge for those who cannot bear confrontation, but we will be hard pressed to provide any real support for growth. It’s a fine edge to play and we need to be vigilant so that our students don’t suffer our process too much.
I think its time we reclaimed the wisdom of a yoga practice, ask for more than a buffed body and a polished ego. Let’s step out of the dark ages, stop hiding behind the narcissistic practices and demand to know who we actually are.
Best wishes and the best of luck with your journey, Leo Peppas
1. There is a useful book, for any teacher, about how easy it is to become a charlatan: 'Power in the Helping Professions' by Adolf Guggenbuhl.
Or on this whole theme in general, I recommend 'Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship' by Donna Farhi.