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What makes 'My' Yoga Yoga?

Right after ‘graduating’ my first 200 hour yoga teacher training, I threw myself into teaching. Thinking back on it now, I’m struck by how little reflection I did.

I knew that yoga teaching was competitive, even in 2007, so I assumed it was going to take time to get a teaching gig. I had heard that you had to ‘audition’ for them, but I felt cocky about that. Because, during my YTT I got so much praise from both teachers and peers, they said things like ‘you are a natural born teacher.’ But what did that really mean?

I think it meant that A. I’m an extrovert. And B. Because of my attempts at indie rock stardom, and also my education at a performing arts high school, I was comfortable in front of an ‘audience.’ I knew how to project my voice, while others mumbled. I dared to look at people, while others, more introverted folks, averted their gaze.

The so called teaching practice we did at the YTT, was all about leading set sequences that we had memorised. We practiced instructing, not teaching. YOGA can’t be instructed, but cookie cutter flows and sequences can, and that’s mostly what’s happening in the name of yoga now.

During the first several years that I assumed I was teaching, I was mostly instructing. I simply didn’t have enough experience or even understanding to teach. There wasn’t much yoga in my yoga either, other than the (mis-guided) name. Of course there was an emphasis on breathing. But to be honest, my own ‘yogic’ breath was often shallow and unconscious and so how the hell would I be able to help others with theirs? I was cheerleading, telling jokes, trying to get people to appreciate their bodies, all of which can be helpful, but I’m not sure much of it truly was yoga. And of course there was savasana. And that can feel pretty magical, and like a gateway into something REAL.

But in all honesty, I was simply teaching exercise. I want to emphasise here that I have a lot of respect for good exercise teachers. Exercise is awesome and much needed in our modern lifestyle of sitting. I’ve come in contact with many great exercise teachers. Some taught pilates, some crossfit, some circle training. Some taught exercise under the name of yoga.

It’s like, why call a blueberry a sandwich? We’ve agreed on a certain meaning for a certain word, no?

The problem is, the meaning of YOGA has gotten lost. Or the meaning has become so watered down, that yoga pretty much means whatever you think it means.

So what does yoga mean to you? And how do you bring that across when you teach?

The way I understand it, yoga is both a noun and a verb. It’s the goal, the destination AND it’s the journey. It’s an attempt to end (or at least diminish) suffering for all sentient beings. And we do that by uprooting IGNORANCE. This ignorance doesn’t mean we are stupid or un-educated. We are ignorant about what we really, truly are. Beyond likes and dislikes. Beyond gender, preferences, age, ethnicity, story.

This ignorance is so deep rooted, that ridding ourselves of it is probably a lifetime of work (or several lifetimes).

We see the world the way we are, not the way it is. And this is why suffer. We internalise all sorts of beliefs, constructs and stories and they distort reality, and lead to pain, anxiety, doubt, comparison etc.

The many and varied practices that we now call YOGA, originated in the part of the world we now call India. These practices are alive and therefore changing. And that’s ok. They are varied because humans are different, and need different things to wake up out of this ignorance. And also, because some humans were very successful in spreading their ideas about how to break the spell. Sometimes because those ideas were good, and sometimes because the humans behind the ideas were good at marketing.

How do you feel about my definition? Or do you have a better one? I’d love to hear from you!

But more importantly, whatever YOGA is to you, how do you share it? How is what you teach helpful for people on their yoga journey?

PEOPLE! I'm discontinuing this blog here, please continue reading on my SUBSTACK

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