Traditions have a strong place in society.
They establish a line of continuity to the past and remind us, if we let them, where we came from.
Traditions and rituals also feed stability into our otherwise rapidly shifting lives.
Often because we depend on them for comfort and familiarity, we accept them without question. While it’s true we celebrate many traditions with an eye to why, for just many if not more, we’ve let go of this link.
We follow tradition because it’s tradition, not because we understand how it came to be.
Take yoga as an example.
No doubt you’ve witnessed or been party to a discussion about what is “true” Yoga and what is not. Perhaps not too dissimilar from a lively dialogue between Georg Feuerstein and Leslie Kaminoff (and others) on whether to capitalize the word yoga.
“Perhaps I may suggest–tongue-in-cheek–that we should continue to use “yoga” for all despiritualized (desacralized) pursuits that claim the name “yoga” and reserve “Yoga” for the kind of approach that coincides with what the originators of the yogic tradition had in mind. Ideally, I would like to see the word “yoga” or “Yoga” dropped from any approach that does not include the spiritual principles of the authentic yogic heritage.” – (Georg Feuerstein, see all comments to get the whole story)
This angle is common: The philosophy and spiritual pursuit make our practice Yoga. The daily rituals and physical endeavors without those make our practice just yoga.
But do most of us practice yoga/Yoga for just one or the other? I doubt it. Perhaps most of us engage more often with yoga activity than Yoga philosophy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not paying attention to both. Most yogis want to be included in the debate! We want to know true Yoga!
(I think most of us when practicing “just asana” are also soaking in philosophy and spirituality to the level we’re able to absorb it: we’re all practicing with an eye on true Yoga.)
Because we get the principle of the debate, we partake in whatever way we can. If all we know is asana, we shift the debate there. Which is perhaps how we got to this exchange that yoga/fitness instructor Derek Beres discusses in a recent blog post:
“Recently I was listening to an NPR piece on boutique fitness when I was struck, though not surprised, by a comment from a Shape‘s fitness editor, Jaclyn Emerick. The host, Tom Ashbrook, played a clip from a Corepower Yoga class. Emerick replied that she didn’t recognize what was going on in that class as yoga—her Iyengar training is light years away from what happens in a Corepower class. That the two styles are vastly different is no surprise. The problem arises when we consider the snobbery of deciding that your training is the proper pursuit of a discipline. In all the movement formats I study, teach, and pay attention to, yoga is by far treated as the most precious.” – Derek Beres
Transfer the sanctity of yoga to asana and it’s easy to see how we can end up pushing the human body to ridiculous reaches. We start to believe that if only we try hard enough, achieving a fancy yoga shape will endow us with mythical spirituality. In truth, we’re testing the limits of our flesh-and-bone structure –limits that don’t hold us back, but in fact help us find our deepest strengths.
Let asana be the physical practice that it is –not a traditional ritual but a modern day invention. Let asana be a modern day practice that reflects contemporary knowledge about human movement. Before we teach asana, we need to learn what that contemporary knowledge is.
Again, Beres shares a similar sentiment in his post The Hamster Wheel of Fitness:
“It’s hard to watch people create and consistently recreate poor movement patterns, but it’s even more frustrating when colleagues do the same. I recently took a yoga class in which the instructor told us to “step or jump into plank.” I’ve spent years trying to undo this ridiculous cueing—jumping into plank—and watched a number of students around me do just that. It’s like driving a car without shock absorbers. You’re going to damage your rotator cuff or upper back muscles through such a terrible chronic pattern. Yet I hear instructors say it all the time, to my dismay.
If you don’t know and you learn, then learn. Change your mind. Don’t repeat poor patterns. You’re only going to get injured. But if you do know and you continue to teach harmful nonsense to your students and clients, then shame on you.” – Derek Beres
Teach asana with a genuine appreciation for and knowledge of the physical body, and without a doubt, you’ll also be teaching Yoga.
You can only imagine what’s beyond your limits after you’ve learned to recognize them.
That’s why we think that teaching yoga asana, like any other movement form, should require a working knowledge of kinesiology. We want you and all yoga teachers to have an anatomically-grounded place from which to support your students’ exploration of their limits and limitlessness –and the knowledge to know the difference.
What do you think? Is your practice yoga or Yoga? Do you think asana should be treated like any other physical endeavor? Let us know in the comments!
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