Learning from contradictions
- Created on Wednesday, 04 November 2009 11:13
So you are a confirmed “yogaholic”: you spend three to four times a week attending different classes and you are a regular face in various weekend workshops. But as your knowledge grows and your practice improves, you begin to realize not all the information you have gathered complement each other. In fact, some of what you learn seems to counter what others have told you previously.
You may learn from one style of yoga, for example, to relax your belly in the poses to maintain a deep diaphragmatic breathing, but are told in another class to keep your lower abdomen engaged to protect your back and seal your energy center. Some schools will tell you to flex your toes to stay balance in certain inverted positions, while others say pointing or even “flointing” (the combination of flexing and pointing) work best. Even in styles with fix sequences such as Ashtanga vinyasa, different teachers may bring different interpretations to the teaching.
Honestly, if you take everything to heart, you’re bound to get confused.
But this diversity – sometime correlated, other times conflicting – is what is wonderful about yoga.
You should always keep in mind that yoga – even the physical practice of Hatha yoga - is a very vast discipline encompassing numerous schools of thoughts, each with emphasis that ranges from the very esoteric, to the mystical to the very physical. Yoga, like its Indian cousin the Ayurveda, is also often referred to as a “living science” because it keeps evolving and changing, embracing new findings and new thinking within the age-old tradition. This is, after all, how it survives over 3,000 years of civilizations and stays relevant to this days and age.
Conflicting technical instructions from different teachers often underlie the different philosophies of the yoga schools, from the more classical yoga philosophy to Vedanta and Tantra. Some yoga schools have the intention to get the physical body in good condition, while others want to cultivate the spirit. These foundational philosophies can make a huge difference in the attitude and focus that the teacher expresses in her postural instructions.
Anusara yoga founder John Friends says there are “3 A’s” - attitudes, alignments, and actions - in yoga poses that differentiate the various yoga styles and schools. Some types of yoga focus on discipline and strong self-effort, while others on relaxing, softening and playfulness. Some classes are very rigorous, up-tempo and structured, others are more explorative and better done slowly. Some styles have precise anatomical alignment, others emphasize on inner feeling and the breath. You can actually gain something from each of these aspects to improve your practice physically, emotionally or spiritually. And even if you prefer one style, you can use what you learn in other styles to help you grow and improve in that favorite style.
But ultimately, what you bring home for your own self-practice will reflect the quality of mind and heart that you want to cultivate. This is when you probably come to a point when you have to determine which style (or styles) is compatible with that intention. Also important is the quality of your “student-hood”. Are you willing to learn without judgment and expectations? Do you trust your teachers to guide you deeper into your practice? Because of this, I find that more important than the style or school of yoga is the quality and intention of the teacher. A good teacher will always foster her or his students to cultivate mindfulness and will not push them to harm themselves.
A few years back - still green in the world of yoga - I took a workshop with a prominent overseas teacher whose style was different than my practice. In the beginning, she asked around what type of yoga we were practicing. Then later she asked me to come up to the stage to demonstrate sun salutation. After I did, she snickered and called what I just did an “aerobic yoga” to the laughter of the class. Later, when I asked several teachers of different styles of yoga, they all agreed that it was inappropriate for any teacher to pick on a student like that.
No one has the right to belittle you and your practice. If you find your teacher doing it, perhaps it’s time to walk away. Yoga is about acceptance not cynicism, it should be encouraging not demoralizing. There are many more teachers who will guide you in a more positive way, drawing from their knowledge and personal experience. More than any physical objective or technical knowledge, you should always view your practice this way: a personal journey where, just like in life, you will encounter and overcome confusions, personal biases and unmet expectations with grace and open heart.
And that, in short, is the ultimate yogic path. Namaste.
*Devi Asmarani enjoys observing the transformative impact of yoga in her life,
and loves to share it with others through her teaching and writing.
Keyword: Health, Jakartadoyoga, Yoga, Yoga Studio, Iyengar, Jakarta, Indonesia