Last week’s article Why I may never take another yoga class generated some great discussion.
Two of the comments were so beautifully written, plus added such balance and insight to my original article, that I asked their authors if I could publish those comments as an article.
From a teaching standpoint, my job is to impart a skill. That skill is accessing prana through asana and pranayama.
Typically speaking, people will experience prana for the first time in two ways:
- through the spontaneous experience of prana
- through a diligent, specific practice that puts them in the position to experience prana.
For the first, it’s a joyous, thrilling taste that draws us to seek it out again (Ken Wilber writes about this in his book One Taste).
Sometimes, people find a method (there are many); sometimes people don’t, and they flop around seeking that experience again and again.
For the second, whatever method is chosen (and whether consciously or unconsciously seeking prana) skilled instruction and diligent practice go hand in hand to discover, and continually rediscover, prana.
Asana practice is a means of discovering and rediscovering prana. When a posture is properly aligned, the prana flows, and over time, with repeated proper alignment, the person begins to feel that flow. For many people, it is easiest to feel that prana through the body itself, and asana provides specific opportunities to feel specific workings of pranic flow through the body.
Proper alignment, taught through skilled instruction, is not “cookie cutter.”
Instead, asana is individually adapted to the individual body so that the energy body aligns properly and the prana flows. There is an energetic dialogue (at least in my teaching) between my body and that of the student. And through this dialogue, I help create a condition where a student can experience prana in a safe, open, and exploratory environment.
From there, it is up to the student what they choose to do with that experience. Truly, it’s not my business. I simply teach a skill that people utilize in their own ways—without any judgment from me about how they choose to use it, where, and when.
Even so, what my students report is that yoga begins to naturally flood their lives, streaming out beautifully into all aspects of their mind, body, spirit, and social interactions. The skills that they learn and practice in asana classes become skills and practices that they use in everyday life. Their experience of prana in class allows them to experience prana in life.
And even so, they keep returning to class to explore more, to learn more, to go deeper into their bodies, their asana, their prana, and their experience; and take those lessons from class out into their home practices and well beyond the mat. With the student, we create that environment together, where they experience again and again, at deeper and deeper levels, their own experience and truth within the asana itself.
As far as “not following the teacher” goes — this can be problematic for the teacher because of the needs of the students. I have no problem with a student “doing their own thing” within reason.
For example, if we are doing crow pose, and the person wants to do child’s pose or just a forward bend (which is how I prefer to enter the pose), then this is fine. But if we are practicing triangle pose and the student is working handstands, this is not appropriate.
Part of going to class is submitting to the teacher. At the very least, it is acknowledging and respecting that s/he is creating a specific space in the classroom for learning, and that the learning is specifically prescribed for that day. I can understand—and have also felt—the strong urge to “do my own thing” while the teacher is going in a direction my body (and more often usually my mind) is fighting. But, out of respect for the teacher, I have held myself back.
Why would I do this?
Well, again, because of my own teaching practice. In my classroom, I usually have mixed levels—beginner to advanced students. Beginners haven’t figured out the basics of the alignment for their bodies, or even the basics of any given postures. Many of them may not yet have felt prana, and they often look to other students for insight. A student doing his/her own thing in class is inhibiting the process I am creating for the whole class, and in particular the process I am facilitating for beginners.
Second to this, Dharma Mittra once told us that if one person in the room does the pose, everyone does the pose—our energy bodies speak to each other. This is why, he told us, he likes to lead mixed-level classes.
Advanced student’s body sings to beginner body!
He told us that the energy calls out and draws the new student in. Beginners’ bodies learn more quickly, find alignment to prana more quickly, when they are with experienced practitioners!
So, if you have a person doing handstand while everyone else is learning triangle pose, then what?
From my experience—which mirrors what Dharma spoke about — you have an energetic “clang!” right out of tune. Fourteen bodies going one direction, one body going the opposite direction. The body of a beginner—who doesn’t yet have access to the prana willfully—will likely be confused.
Dharma was so intent on this process that he was very specific:
Breathe together, move together. Advanced yogins! Practice WITH the beginners! Stay WITH them. You, breathe as advanced in pranayama! But with the same pace as beginners! SING to them!
In my experience—in my personal practice, in my teaching practice, and in my practice with my teachers—yoga is not something you do alone, ever!
When you are alone, doing it, your body does what you want—you align to prana in asana or spontaneously or while cooking or doing art or whatever — but that song radiates out from you and touches everyone! It sings to their energy, their bodies, their souls!
When we are in a classroom, we are tuning ourselves to each other, we are forming a choir. We are singing to each other, teaching others how to sing through their own bodies by our own bodies.
And out and out and out and in and in and in and through and through and through it goes in infinite Om. It is always uniquely the individuals’ but always uniquely ours too.
Or at least that’s how I see it.