When "Yogacise" clashes with Yoga
I've been practicing yoga for 18 years now and teaching for 14. About a year ago, I made a promise to myself as a yoga teacher to deliver brief talks in my classes on topics relating to yoga philosophy because I felt this aspect was being entirely cut out of most public classes. Yoga had become "Yogacise", just another fitness class. I felt it would be a disservice to my students to focus solely on physical postures without introducing the essential philosophical concepts that are meant to accompany an asana practice.
Most students seem to appreciate the framing that these talks provide for their yoga practice. But, of course, you can't please everyone and some feel it's too much talking, not enough moving. I'm always aware of the time and cap these chats to 5 minutes tops but even that seems to be too long for some. As a yoga teacher, the dilemma at this point is: do I continue with this practice to help many or drop it to appease a few? The answer seems obvious, and the math is clear: the voices of many outweigh the few. But then I began to wonder: why is it that we strip yoga of its more esoteric elements causing students to have no tolerance for it?
It would be like a Roman Catholic receiving communion without being told about Jesus or why they're receiving communion but being assured that it's good for them. There's no context. I believe this can, at least in part, be attributed to an erosion of rigor, watering down content to make it easily palatable.This erosion hasn't only affected yoga, it's infecting many industries and the general level of competence across numerous fields has plummeted because we want to get to the end point without doing the work. We want to get our yogacise without the pesky complications of having to make it a way of living, like the Roman Catholic who goes to church on Sundays but acts like a total douchebag the rest of the week (I used to be a practicing Catholic so I speak from experience).
I had teachers in university who weren't afraid to tell me they doubted I could write a paper on a certain topic and didn't hesitate to critique my work and push for more. They were some of the most skilled professors I ever had, and they also propelled me to do my best work. Did they piss me off? Absolutely. I got outright angry in one instance and it was that very anger that pushed me to write one my finest papers. I didn't blame the professor, say he was insensitive or creating an "unsafe space". I didn't give him a low rating because he wasn't acting in accordance with my expectations. He was doing his job, and he did it well. As a yoga teacher, I believe avoiding things that students may not like is coddling and a missed opportunity to push them (and me) towards our best selves. I, and my students, will atrophy if we stay in our comfort zones, only doing what we want and feel comfortable with.
I recently rediscovered rigor when I started taking Iyengar yoga classes. The first thing I noticed was that the names of the poses were only given in Sanskrit, and my Sanskrit is rusty at best, so I had to figure it out on the fly, and the instructor was there to impart the teachings of this lineage, not to be liked or try to please the students. It was thoroughly refreshing, as a beginner Iyengar student, to not be coddled. Funnily enough, the lack of coddling made me feel more confident, because I felt the teacher had confidence in me to find my way in this practice. That being said, she's very attentive and promptly lets me know when postural refinements are needed. The teacher also doesn't hesitate to take the time she needs to impart some philosophy at the start of class. It's part of the practice, and that's that.
With the advent of the Yelp culture and social media encouraging us to constantly judge, rate, and evaluate everything under the sun, is the yoga industry now more concerned with trying to deliver what students like versus teaching yoga, whether they like it or not? Are we creating completely artificial interactions with students to get a good rating or taking the risk of being genuine, knowing some will reject it? As a teacher, I admit, it's daunting to teach what I truly believe to be yoga knowing I'm risking not pleasing some students but, based on the yoga philosophy concepts I had the privilege of learning about, there's no other way to teach, at least not if you want to teach with integrity. Also, I hated math in school, but they didn't change it to please me.