Back to basics
The other day I booked a different type of yoga class in my regular studio, taught by a new teacher. Before I stepped in the room I saw a girl scribbling in her notebook and I didn't come to think she was the new teacher. When she stepped in the room, wearing her leopard legging and Debbie Harry shirt with pride, speaking with a bit of a Dunglish accent I already felt the prejudices coming up. She wasn't "yoga", more a girl going to a Rock concert. She wasn't prepared well enough; she doesn't even use music! Ten minutes later I was convinced otherwise, sixty minutes later my beliefs on how and why to practise yoga had been changed. When I first started practising yoga, some years ago, it was in a gym, and the type was called Body Balance. It was the equivalent of what we now call Vinyasa. A flow of asanas, performed on carefully picked music, like a dance. Coming from a dance background, I really enjoyed this type of yoga, which focussed on breath, creating stamina and muscle mass, whilst making you flexible. Afterwards I repeatedly tried traditional Hatha yoga, which was more static and often without the use of music. The asanas were performed on its own, and although there was always some sort of build up to a final asana, e.g. Headstand (Salamba Sirsāsana) or Full wheel (Chakrāsana), there was no "flow" and I found it to be extremely boring! And then I found Vinyasa. Finally, there was some juiciness to yoga, it felt more like dancing and I got into the flow, both physically and mentally. So I went for my Yoga Teacher Training (YYT), because I wanted to share this flow with èverybody... There, in India, Hatha and Sies met again. Although I could have just studied at a Vinyasa school, I chose to first start with traditional Hatha yoga, as I believed it was important to learn about the basics and philosophy before specialising. I could always create my own fast paced, flow class afterwards. None of my teachers used music and the flow created in between the asanas was there because they carefully chose their sequences based on an intention for every class. I learned the importance of good posture during asana practise, of breathing deeply and with poise and most importantly, turning inwards. Furthermore, I learned why we do asanas, what the philosophy behind it is (preparing the body for meditation). Music càn help with that, but often times just takes you outside of the moment and lets your mind wander. That is the opposite of what you want to achieve as a yoga teacher! Earlier, I often heard a nice song during my yoga class and kept on humming to the tune, swaying my hips during the Downward facing dog (Adho mukha śvānāsana) and kept on reminding myself to download the music once back home. At that moment I wasn't in the practise anymore. Still, I spent a lot of time creating a solid playlist for my one hour practical asana exam, which would suit my carefully selected sequence, based on my intention for the class. I still wanted to be like the Vinyasa teachers. During the exam the sequence lasted longer than planned and the music was finished earlier than "the dance" so I had to think on my feet and quickly switch to other music. I also noticed that the pace of my class, thus the in- and out breath of my students, was founded on the music on the background. Creating a good playlist is a beautiful skill, one that I at that moment didn't own yet, and can shift your focus away from what is really important: teaching the yoga class, being present at that moment and letting the students be guided by their natural breath. After coming back home from my travels I started practising Vinyasa yoga again. It felt different than before, hurried, with a bigger likelihood of getting injuries. I was amazed at how fast it all went! I couldn't keep up without forsaking what I had learned about alignment. There was no focus on right postures or adjusting limbs, or of turning inwards. There was focus on sweating, burning calories and creating muscle mass. Basically, it was a work out, crunch gym yoga. And the worst of all, they kept on systematically using the wrong Sanskrit terms; talk about blasphemy! (Text continues after video)
Coming back to the yoga class by the new yoga teacher teaching a more traditional Hatha based class. She had chosen to go back to the basics. Not using a music installation, but focussing on alignment and adjusting when a person was about to twist a knee or not opening up enough. Focussing on breathing deeply in and out and using all the proper Sanskrit terms. She was the first teacher since my YYT who performed an adequate warming up of the wrists, who chanted Ohm, and who didn't sing "the choreography of the dance" as if she'd done in a thousand times before. And more importantly, it felt like she was her authentic self. She was truly inspiring, and as it turned out, also a recently graduated -humble- yoga teacher, happy to share her knowledge on the possibilities for newbies. After her class I figured out what for me as a teacher is the most important thing: going back to the basics and using yoga asanas for what they are meant to. It is different for Every Body, but yoga asanas to me are not about getting a good workout anymore. It is about creating the space for the body and mind to turn inward, so that afterwards, we can give the outside world the best of us.