In this time of visiting teachers I find myself going back to a topic those of you who have practiced at YIY for a bit will surely know well.
It is with great delight we have the opportunity to welcome different teachers to YIY. They bring a certain wealth of knowledge to our studio and practitioners. They can also bring confusion.
Sometimes the confusion can be a matter of language. Teachers will say things that either is or isn’t the language you would use to describe an action. Some teachers will speak your language, ie express something that helps you get it with something immediately. Other teachers won’t.
Sometimes its emphasis. Different teachers come through here and one will advocate something another teacher strongly advises against. IE Bodywork versus no deep bodywork. Chanting versus pranayama versus kirtan vs just show up daily and practice.
The obvious and something I think most everyone at YIY does an excellent job with is to take what you like (or what seems to work well in YOUR body) and leave the rest. As a matter of respect its nice to honor what a teacher asks you to do (as long as you can do so without causing yourself harm) while they are here. Over time I think most of us find we keep what works for us in our own body.
The not so obvious, and what I’d like to put to the group here in a more public forum, is that it is something we do and can discuss amongst our community. If you don’t want to do it in a public forum please ask us after or during class. And/or talk to other practitioners to see what they think too. Most of the teachers and students at YIY have studied as extensively with various teachers, and I think that the contradictions that come up among different teachers can be something that’s good, and provided you as students with a change to probe what is taught and why. That is to say that rather than blindly adopting what we are told, we try it on for size and survival of the ashtanga yoga socratic method. Think about the why of it and does it make your practice better over time, or worse?
For a more standard example I would pose the issue of whether or not to turn out your toes in a backbend.
At one end of the spectrum teachers advocate not to turn out the toes. They say we risk the knees, and lower back, and “cheat” by using the lower back rather than the legs to get up to standing when the time comes.
At the other end many teachers will use turning out the feet, widening the feet, and going down the backs of the legs to show people that its easier than they think (and less scary) to drop back, often taking away the luxury of the turned out toes once the person can drop back with proficiency. Some never take it away.
One thing that’s obvious in laying this out to most eyes is that often this is a matter of timing. IE in a certain context its appropriate to turn out your feet, at a certain point its moved into cheating. There are also people out there (and I’ve seen them) that have hip joints that rotate internally to the degree that its more appropriate for them to turn out their toes whatever it may look like so that they keep their hips in the proper alignment. It can be a matter of strength too, and what your own body lets you get away with…..Some teachers have bodies where they can turn out their toes for a very long time without anything bad happening. And at a certain point you start to see that what the feet do is related to but does not nec determine what’s going on with your bandhas and internal rotation of the leg.
Guruji would say its easiest to have one teacher because it reduces these contradictions and these confusions. We are more likely in studying with one teacher to have someone who knows our practice, and is better able to suggest the right answer at the right time.
We take a risk with what we do when we engage with different teachers. And I have to say its incumbent on you to communicate with these teachers when there is something that they ought to know about you and your practice. Don’t hold back in that because good teachers will welcome your concise comments (think bullet points not laundry list :-)).
But what I have put together over the years has come from being open to learning more, and that’s the spirit in which I like to welcome these events. And I do believe that if we talk about these things, these different ways of doing things we see there is enough breadth of approaches among these different teachers to address both the fact that we are all working in different bodies, and also to address that there is not one teacher that can show everyone everything there is to know about this practice.
So I invite you to hang on for the ride, and aim for being/finding yourself in the weeks ahead.