I find myself surprised to be at week 6 reporting on week 5. Where did the time go? It feels long in terms of how much I’ve learned and short in terms of knowing that there is so much more to learn. This week was mostly devoted to discussing the history, the branches and styles of yoga. Mapping the stylistically wide and historically deep world of yoga has left me happily lost. What combinations would my yoga practice include: Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, Jnana, Karma, Kundalini? This was as much about my own history and what brought me to yoga as it was about discussing the hazy, dense lineage of yoga practice that feeds into yoga teacher training in small-town Indiana.
Much like the practice of breathing and asanas that honor my body, it seems I have to feel my way through yoga history and principles in a way that honors my mind and my own personal background. Our discussions didn’t shy away from concerns about religious incompatibility, cultural discomfort with chanting and Sanskrit terminology, or distractions of disengaged students. “What is yoga to me?” is the question that resonated like a meditative chime throughout the week. For me, for now, yoga is an attentive practice uniting mind, body and breath.
For us in the West, more important than the 5000 year old birth of yoga in India is the 1893 arrival of yoga to Chicago with the words of Swami Vivekananda. As Jacqueline explained, each of Khrishnamacharya’s students approached yoga differently. B.K. S Iyengar, himself sickly as a child, saw yoga as a therapeutic strategy involving attention to alignment and the use of various props. T.K.V Desikachar, learning from his father, saw yoga as an individual practice with attention to breath as shared, Pattabi Jois, saw yoga as a way to direct restless and active children-youth and thus developed more physically demanding sequences. Indra Devi, the first woman and Westerner to be trained opened the first yoga studio in the U.S. and introduced yoga in China and Argentina.
Yoga in the modern world risks commercial dilution of principles while at the same time is recognized as a therapeutic and preventative path towards holistic health. Understanding and assessing contemporary yoga practices around us today, require awareness of our own preferences and needs. What you look for in a yoga teacher or studio will be guided by whether you want a rigorous fitness based practice or a restorative preparation for meditation…and all combinations in-between. One day your body may crave energy and another day calmness. Finding our way to what we need at that particular moment is the benefit of exploring the historical and pedagogical map of yoga. I have to restrain my philosophical penchant for definitions and just enjoy the path of attentive living.
Walk on and keep breathing wherever the day may take you. This is what I learned this week at yoga teacher training.
May we all find the corners of the yoga world that nourish us.
Bowing to the happy places inside you,