An ongoing conversation
It all started with an article and a questions from Reilly
https://www.instagram.com/p/BE03K1uK-ea/ Thoughts? Or perhaps counter-arguments?
Andrea's (My) response
Yes, these advanced postures can be valuable and important.
First as a student then and as a teacher i ask, would peacock or lolasana, or forearm balance bring more joy into my life? Would they make meditation more meaningful? If yes, then i study and find a specific teacher to me to help me deepen my personal practice in this way.
As a teacher i ask, what are my student's goals when coming to class? If it is to do these posses, then how can i help bring them to a place where there bodies can play with the physical demands of these poses. If they want this, can i as a teacher help them direct there energy and mind to the place these poses ask of them?
Personally i feel in the make-up of my student base i would need to work 1to1 with students at this level as a class gives too general a population with too diverse goals. I feel these posture demand a certain teacher student relationship of trust and tapas and swadiyaya.
What does everyone else think, i'd love to hear.
For some students, the mastering the more advanced asana is called for because it brings them a sense of moving away from the vrittis and to the physical posture. One way of taming the mind. The mindstuff becomes distant when you are focusing so intently. It is great as long as the EGO does not appear in that moment, as that moves you farther from peace. For others, especially as they are older, simply cannot force themselves to move into advanced asana because of injury.
Students in their 20s through early 40s move towards things, they push forward in their life, job, relationships, ... As we age, we are more content to accept, to wait for things to come to us, not as much pushing. Therefore the simple act of sitting still is sometimes enough. Not as much muscling through to attain a goal. Neither way is wrong, it is just a byproduct of where we are in our lives.
I agree that we all need to push ourselves just beyond our present comfort zone. Incrementally, as we achieve one goal, stretch and keep expanding our zone of ability and capability. On the other hand we each have our own limitations. We must recognize and respect what those limitations are at any given time, both for ourselves and our students. The Instagram post appears to me to view everything as black or white, i.e. anything short of perfection is failure or at least not good enough, which is negative. I prefer to view each step, from where I currently am, as positive forward progress. Life has many different levels of bars, my highest and yours may be different, but we both are at the top. Don't judge.
I think it is very important to consider that individuals do yoga for many different personal reasons...a way to detach from everyday stresses, increasing flexibility, strength and balance, a way to find calmness, a way to go inward, a personal journey of self-discovery, a respite...and many more. Some of these reasons apply more to the physical realm and others more to our emotional and mental realms. Many overlap.
When teaching, I think it is important to teach to the level of the student, from a safety perspective when thinking about the physical, but also because as yoga teachers, we are really guides. We are guiding the students in their practice. It is not our decision to decide for any of our students to "push themselves." In my opinion, this is their decision.
One of the biggest challenges of being a yoga teacher for me is teaching a class with students of varying levels. Varying levels applies to varying levels of students' physical abilities, but also to the variances in the objectives [meaning - what each individual student wants to get out of the class] of each individual student.
This article seems to emphasize the importance of mastering challenging poses. It mentions that "..in the American yoga community we have slowly lowered the bar for the students." In my opinion, placing significant importance on mastering challenging poses reflects how [some of today's] American yoga community has detracted from what Hatha Yoga practice is really about -- that being a foundation or support for all of the other yoga practices.
Having said this, I don't think mastering challenging yoga poses is a bad thing. A good question to ponder is, WHY do I want to master this pose? What is driving me to it? This type of questioning may lead me to discover something about myself.
I think it is often not appropriate in a group class [unless the class is composed of students of a similar advanced level and similar interest level]. I just get saddened when I see so many extreme poses played up in the media as being something to aspire to. Even more disheartening is when I see extreme poses, with poor form gracing the covers of magazines.
Yes, it's an interesting conversation, but the approach seems clear to me. Each person decides for him/herself what constitutes "a challenge". For each of us it's different. We are free to try difficult/risky tasks or to simply stay with what is comfortable/known. The middle ground, where I think I sit, is to continue learning, growing and trying new things, yet staying in a place that feels true and manageable. We are all wired differently in terms of desire for challenge. In any given yoga class the teacher sets the pace/level, and the students can adapt with modifications or challenges as appropriate. A student who is striving for a tough physical challenge will want to seek out a place/class that supports and teaches that level. I would not be comfortable in a class where I was told to do more/try harder, but that's just me. As a teacher I would not want a student to attempt a high level pose that I myself didn't know how to teach safely.
There's room for all different interests/desires. To each his own!
Thanks for the responses, y'all. I think I need views like those to help me balance ones like Jared's from the Instagram post and my own. From a young age I've had a demonic tendency to reject or destroy things that don't do what I want. Obviously, that's no way to approach yoga or your own body so yoga has forced me to grow out of those tendencies.
The reason Jared McCann talks about not staying in a comfortable place is because that's how you get trapped in Samsara for all eternity -- by always seeking comfort, running from pain, seeking pleasure. I've had a growing realization recently that the most accurate way I know to relate to the universe is that we are all trapped in some kind of (ineffable) work of art. From a young age I have been haunted by a feeling that none of this is quite good enough. It's why I do yoga: I'm not quite good enough either but yoga makes me feel like I am and that the world is ok.
Another reason Jared recommends not staying comfortable in your practice always is because if you are then you aren't advancing, and we all have much room for improvement. This society hindered us practically from birth with a debilitating, poisonous mainstream diet, sedentary lifestyle and all manner of corporate hive-minded programming (our mental diet) geared at profit for the masters NOT health for the masses.
The body is your primary instrument. The better it is tuned, the better YOU play the symphony of Reality. Yoga tunes all those chords and strings. One of many reasons not to stay comfortable in your practice is because we have been so hindered by our setting in these lives, we have a long way to go until we reach optimal human functioning. Keep practicing, shift universes! Reilly ;)
Cathy's refers to another article
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Hi, I'm Andrea. This is my yoga blog.