What kind of Yoga do you teach?
I must confess that I really dislike being asked that question. For sure, it comes from a deep underlying resistance to being pigeon-holed in general, and I fully understand that people ask this question. But I’ve found, even with fellow Yoga teachers, that anyone asking this is looking for a one- or two-word answer, and any proper response would be much more than that.
There are many good reasons why we should avoid becoming restricted by a “type” of Yoga that defines us as teachers. If we are truly aiming to be authentic as teachers, meaning that we practice regularly and teach from our embodied insights that this practice, we will automatically be very individualised in our approach and methods. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have similarities with other teachers or that we don’t take on some of the best attitudes and traits of our main teachers and their approach to Yoga. But it means that we always doing so as ourselves, from our own authentic energy and not as some photocopy of our teacher. We all knows what happens if we make a copy of a copy of a copy—every subsequent copy has more and more blemishes and, far from replicating the original eventually ends up totally degraded.
“To a Yogin with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail!”
If we teach Yoga only as a particular set of specific practices to be followed in a particular way without question, we are deliberately limiting ourselves to a specific Yoga toolkit. What happens then if the practice that best suits a particular student’s needs lies outside that toolkit? Ethically we should send them to someone capable of helping them better, but the truth is that rarely happens.
An even better question is, why would we ever want to limit ourselves to only certain practices or methods instead of broadening out our skills to help more and more people? Some might say specialisation or mastery, and that is fine if we actively question whether our teachings are right for each individual student’s needs, and if not send them to be helped by others. But we always need to be careful that the Yoga practices we are promoting aren’t ineffective ones that we just sustain in the interests of “tradition.”
"Think not that all wisdom is in your school."
I heard this saying from a Hawaiian Huna teacher over a decade ago, and it also resonated with me at a deep level. It is a powerful reminder that no system under the sun is perfect, and we should always look outside to see what else is going on.
That doesn't mean that we should accept everything in life lock, stock and two yogic barrels. There is always a place for wisdom and discrimination, but it should be open discrimination based on spaciousness beyond ego, humble and accepting even when not agreeing. This kind of investigation leads to creativity and innovation as we adapt and include practices from other traditions into our own practice and eventually our teaching.
Becoming more open is a good marker of progress in Yoga practice. We know less and investigate more. Closing down--circling the wagons--is a bad sign that our current practice is not working (or simply that we are not practising).
“Use only that which works and take it from any place you find it.”
This quote is from Bruce Lee, who many know as a martial arts actor from the 70’s but may not know that he was an innovative force and troublemaker in the deeply traditional Chinese kung fu community.
As well as daring to teach “secret techniques” to non-Chinese students, he followed an evolutionary approach that moved away from an ineffective traditional form-based approach to an open, adaptive and functional approach. Bruce had his students use martial arts techniques and methods from all over the globe, including boxing and other Western techniques, very far removed from his original Wing Chun training.
We need to take the same attitude in teaching Yoga, keeping those practices which work for our students and setting aside any practices that don’t bring positive change. If we keep alive practices that are ineffective then we are creating a practice that is somewhere in-between entertainment and a museum piece. If anything traditional is retained about Yoga practice it should be the tradition of Yoga benefitting its practitioners rather than any specific methodology in and of itself.
The Pathless Path
Yoga is a Pathless Path, open in all six cardinal directions. With a broad perspective we can do so much more good in the world, empowering others to find their own way.