At a big yoga conference last year I decided to sit in on a workshop with a nationally known teacher. The auditorium was full with over a hundred students. I looked around the room and saw a wide range of students from very experienced to novices. One young man did not have a sticky mat, and was wearing tennis shoes. An older woman obviously had back issues.
Then the class began. With out any attempt to check in with students and only the most casual instruction to move at your own pace, the teacher gave instructions in how to press into a hand-stand in the middle of the room. The most experienced students followed him into beautiful hand-stands. Others had enough sense to just watch. But some students, with little or no training or preparation attempted to hurl themselves up into the pose, putting themselves and those closest to them at risk.
After a few minutes I had seen enough and slipped out of the room. I looked on the schedule and saw that a highly qualified teacher was offering an introduction to pranayama (breathing) in another room. I have been practicing pranayama for 40 years, and teaching it for 20 years, yet I still enjoyed her workshop and learned some new things about my own breath and about how to teach pranayama to others.
I was one of only 5 students attending her workshop! I was delighted to get so much personal attention but felt bad for the teacher and disappointed with the state of yoga in the US. The idea that so many students would choose an advanced but poorly taught class over a basic but well taught class was disturbing. I understand when talent is trumped by marketing hype, gimmicks, excitement and sex in the entertainment industry. But when I see the same thing happening to yoga I am saddened.
Last week I attended a different yoga conference, sponsored by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. The contrast between these two conferences could not have been more apparent. The Yoga Therapy conference featured phenomenal presenters and great content. It emphasized subtleties and the importance of continuing to improve our foundations rather than performing to the crowd. After four days I left with renewed hope for my profession, a deeper understanding of and appreciation for yoga, and lots of new friends. One of these friends shared a story with me that I would like to close with.
She is a successful yoga teacher who is probably in her 70's, but looks and acts much younger. Recently she decided to try something new. She signed up for an Ashtanga Yoga workshop. For those of you who are not familiar with Ashtanga yoga, it is a very vigorous and demanding style of yoga. The well known teacher drew some of the most experienced students from that tradition to study with him.
When my friend walked into the studio she saw a group of young and incredibly athletic yogis and yoginis who were already warming up with hand stands, back bends, and more challenging asanas. She realized that she would need to be very careful if she was to avoid getting injured. While everyone around her continued to perform advance poses, she moved into child's pose, closed her eyes and focused on her breath.
When the teacher entered the room to begin teaching he passed close to her. Leaning over he placed a hand on her back and whispered "I am glad to see that someone in this room is doing yoga."
As a teenager, I have to admit that I was easily bored with the easy and simple yoga practices, thinking them easy and simple! But increasingly, I find myself falling in love with the simplest and easiest of practices, only to find them neither simple or easy! Namaste'
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