Monday, February 18, 2013

What vehicle does your yoga teacher place you in?

I have owned a lot of cars.  Old cars mostly.  Old, weird cars primarily.  It is tempting to say that I chose the cars I’ve owned based on some of my own weird old personality quirks.  That would be true.  I’ve owned cars made in countries that no longer exist - try getting parts for those!  But I loved all my cars, even when I was sometimes stranded on the highway calling the Automobile Association for a tow truck, trying to spell out the name and model of the vehicle to an incredulous switchboard operator.

Yoga teachers offer their quirks and particular view of things as they teach even a very physical form of yoga - hatha yoga.  If a yoga teacher teaches with sincerity, they offer a  unique vehicle.  To be effective, that unique vehicle must still have the ability to safely stretch, strengthen and calm the body and mind, just like a car must have the ability to get you where you want to go safely and relatively comfortably.

We often buy cars from large manufacturers.  You can go to an Auto Mall and choose from many vehicles.  Car salespeople represent one manufacturer, so they have a vested interest in you choosing one of their cars.  We have “styles” of yoga, and teachers of that style have a vested interest in promoting the benefits of that style.

A great car salesman would be one that places the interests of the buyer first.  The world’s best car saleswoman would ask the potential buyer what they are looking for, assess their needs (4 door?  Sports car?  Truck? MPG?), and then point them to the vehicle that best suited their needs regardless of manufacture, new or used.  Or maybe even suggest taking the bus.

A great yoga teacher would assess a student’s needs in the same way.  But in order to do that, the teacher would have to know the benefits and possible detriments of all the different “styles” of yoga.  This would require dedication, curiosity, an open mind, a willingness to let go of believing what they teach is superior, and of course they would have to practice daily and reflect on their experience.  This could take some time.  Yes.

Luckily, hatha yoga styles are a lot like cars from different manufacturers.  They are marketed for their unique qualities, often very subjectively with an appeal to emotion.  But in reality, we have cars, trucks, station wagons, luxury vehicles, sports cars, and then all the hybridization of those basic categories.  Each vehicle has a more or less specific function - speed, comfort, hauling ability - but all must fulfill the primary requirement.  They have to get you where you want to go.

Yoga practice is similar.  There are ways of practice that include restorative, meditative, active outer movement of the body, active inner movement of more subtle muscles, movement of even more subtle energies, therapeutics for injuries, and the use of sound and vibration.  These components appear in the modern brands or styles of yoga and it is these components that need to be understood and practiced by the yoga teacher in order to be fluent, knowledgeable, and able to serve the best interests of the student.

Unlike large vehicle manufactures, yoga teachers have a distinct advantage.  That advantage is their own quirks and particular way of being.  Those quirks appear as they teach, and if the teacher can recognize the quirks and couple them with a good understanding of yoga and the essential components of practice, they can offer a unique vehicle that will get their student where they want to go, quirks intact.  Like the way my old MG's wooden steering wheel felt, or the sound of my Skoda's engine peaking at 85kph.  I loved those cars.

Monday, February 11, 2013


A friend of mine who recently released an album of his original songs expressed his frustration at what seemed to be a lack of interest and support for what was a labour of love and quite a good album.  As artists and human beings, we want our gifts of art and beauty to be recognized - that is as it should be I think, and the last half of the equation of creativity - someone to appreciate the art.

Our tribal and nomadic ancestry, the only way we humans have essentially lived, except for the revolutions in agriculture and industrialization, evolved our desire for community and interdependency.  A medicine man, an artist or musician in a nomadic tribe would have had the role, among other roles, of pointing to the subtle beauty and mystery of life in song, dance, or painting.

With the explosion in population due to the agricultural revolution, our world became settled, compartmentalized, and monetized.  We now speak of the value of beauty in dollars, and we measure success in hits on a website, sales of our gifts, and worldwide recognition - to be celebrated.

Our desire for widespread, even planetary recognition of our gifts is inversely proportional to how little real community, interdependence and attention we have left.

The question is raised “how does one become successful in the (music, art, yoga) industry?  Our planet has billions of humans that can transfer information - art, music, dance, writing - instantaneously.  Many of those humans wish to share their gifts.  How much can your personally receive?  For me, almost none.  I’m too busy trying to share my own gifts most of the time.

The desire for recognition is a desire for love, and to be seen for who you are at a deep level, beneath culture, gender, age, income or race.  We need this more and more because we’ve shifted so far from our true connection to who we are. One of the things  we are is our relationship to who and what is in front of us.

I have musician friends who play to gatherings of more people than live in my village.  These friends entertain more people at once than any tribal medicine man, dancer or musician ever did.  And they do not consider themselves successful.  I’ve felt this way too as a musician.  I felt that way because I tried to replace the lost richness of being with recognition and celebrity.

Some of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had as a yoga teacher or musician have been in small groups of people who know how to pay attention.  People that came for a reason, to share and receive something of value - a value that cannot be measured in dollars, hits or number of sales.

This model of success is not the model we seem to value right now.  The model of success we value is the model that has overfished the oceans, cut down the forests, turned friends into potential multi-level marketing opportunities, wives into trophies and our gifts into commodities.  In short, it is the model that has no value.  But like a sleepwalker among sleepwalkers, waking up can be a solitary and uncomfortable experience.  So my friends, keep making beauty, regardless of who seems to be listening.  Your gifts are recognized.