Reflections on the evolution of a Yoga practice and teaching practice over two decades
Part 1: “Am I doing this right?”
Over the early years of teaching yoga I am often asked by students “Am I doing this right?” I began to question what defined “right Yoga” and then in contrast what defined “wrong Yoga”. I feel it speaks to an ingrained cultural trajectory that values getting better or improving oneself – as if there is something at the beginning that even needs improving. This self improvement idea translates into Yoga practice as ‘better’ or ‘good’ by being defined by how complex or bendy one can be and is often accompanied by what one looks like while preforming Yoga postures. Practicing and achieving difficult or challenging postures becomes a marker of advancement.
For the first few years, I practiced what I now term achievement yoga, pushing to attain pretzel-like forms and practicing for hours on end. Being “good” at yoga was being “better at yoga”. I was constantly in some kind of physical pain and to be honest was overly virtuous about many aspects of life including what I ate.
My personal practice of Restorative Yoga and studying Ayurveda has had a profound influence on how my practice has evolved and the measure of “good” Yoga is now about cultivating a nourishing, grounded ease in being.
This approach is woven into my teaching practice: students often comment that they experience a friendly, encouraging and non-competitive culture. I do feel that a current and hopefully sustained wave of Yoga is about nourishing practice that is accessible, adaptable, conversational and felt.
Ultimately at the beginning and end of the day it is each to their own. My only encouragement is to find teachers that can support you cultivating a life long and responsive practice that feels healthy, insightful and kind.
Here is a work in progress that defines my view on “good”, “bad”, “right” and “wrong” Yoga:
Good – If you leave the class feeling present calm, energised, grounded, centred, breath-full, strong, connected, remember the drive home and happily stick to the speed limit, supermarket shop differently and have a great night’s sleep.
Bad – If you leave the class feeling agitated, irritated, in a rush, in any kind of pain – especially sharp pain, forget where you parked your car, are exhausted, crave anything.
Right – If you feel nourished during the class, if you are in every breath, making effortless choices that serve your mental / physical / emotional / energetic well-being. Throughout the class you are dancing to the beat of your own drum together with your classmates who all have said hi to you before class and will after class too. You experience an openness in the class culture so that you feel free to ask questions, adapt movements and where you are seen.
Wrong – When it’s all feeling like a workout more than an internal enquiry when the teacher is dictating how you should look, feel, breathe, when the class is so fast your breath goes out the window and at some point you are reminded to breathe and the teacher might say ‘stand up straight’.
Please feel welcome to send me any comments or additions!