Since becoming a yoga teacher 15 years ago, I've had lots of weird and wonderful questions from students about various aspects of the practice as well as the odd one or two about other stuff like 'Do you know if the A34 is closed in both directions next week?'
By way of example, one of the things I get asked most about is how to balance, so much so, I can now tell when the balance question is coming as it always goes something like this: student hovers over after the class so as to wait for everyone to leave before approaching me with that glare in their eye before whispering conspiratorially behind their hand, "how the bloody hell do I stand on one leg?"
It's like there's some secret teaching I'm not giving them as they keep falling over when trying to perform utthita hasta padangustasana.
Sometimes I like to play with them a little bit by suggesting they eat more mushrooms or they offer prayers and salutations to the balance Goddess TippyToeaka. Then if these things don't work the best thing I can do is to cautiously offer the words of the late great Sri K Pattabhi Jois "practice, practice, practice", before telling them not to get too hung-up on it.
Guidance not dependence
A few weeks back one of my regular 'Mysore Style' students ('Mysore Style' refers to the traditional way of practising and being taught the Ashtanga Yoga discipline) came up to me at the end of class and asked me about whether or not it's appropriate to have two teachers. The reason for the question is that she'd read somewhere that a highly respected teacher of Ashtanga said that students should only have one teacher and this not only confused her but made her think she was doing something wrong. Now I don't want to get in the habit of contradicting people or even suggesting that this teacher is wrong so I asked my student how does she feel about having two teachers? "I feel ok about it as both teachers are teaching fundamentally the same thing", she replied.
I won't try and second guess what the respected teacher meant by only having one teacher but I'm pretty sure that they were suggesting it can be confusing for a student to hear contradicting points of view, certainly if they were practicing different forms of Yoga. And to me this is the rub: there's all kind of people and personalities; some folk will be attracted to one form of yoga and some to another and some lovely guys and gals will be attracted to lots of different yoga practices - variety is the spice of life after all, eh? Different strokes for different folks.
I guess what I'm driving at a little here is that yes we need to look to our teachers for guidance and advice but at the end of the day we need to ask our inner teacher (did I just say inner teacher? Oh Lord of Naff Spiritual Clichés please shoot me!) what do we actually feel is right for ourselves? For the lass mentioned above, her yoga life was just peachy with two teachers and it was only when she read the advice of a senior teacher that she got her trikonasanas in a twist. We need to take some responsibility - I spoke about this kind of thing in a previous blog, advice can be good but is it good for YOU?
Now as a Buddhist (yep people I am now a fully paid up member of the Buddhist society having recently taken the precepts ceremony with his Royal Zenness Brad Warner) I am drawn to the Buddha's first 'noble truth' - all life is suffering. Ok I am going to go off on a little tangent now so you may want to skip this bit. After a little research and speaking to various Buddhist scholars (the anoraks of Buddhism) it turns out that in Buddha's 'Four Noble Truths', the original translation, the word 'truth' was never there, and the actual translation of the first of the four teachings (according to some) was not 'ALL life is suffering' but, and this is very important, 'THERE is suffering ' i.e. In life suffering happens and to quote Stephen Batchelor's 'street' translation, 'Sh*t happens' .
Ok back on track now (I'm getting to the point in a very long convoluted way). With that teaching 'Shit happens' in mind, we all know that our life offers us both up and downs and that to help out with the downs we have various practices like meditation and yoga to help pull us through. What's really important to me is that we don't start turning the stuff that helps us out into stuff that drags us down. Just get on your mat or your zafu and practice already, don't let people's opinions turn what is going to do you lots of good into something that creates more suffering.
Practice, practice, practice
A friend of mine calls Ashtanga Yoga a practice for obsessive Westerners, and boy oh boy when Guruji Pattabhi Jois made the 'practice practice practice' comment in class he wouldn't have had any idea just how this would make the obsessives go into hyper drive.
'I think I'll do some yoga today' suddenly turned into 'I MUST do my practice', and in one off-the-cuff quote by the Guru, a new phase of yoga obsessive was born in which we practice come what may in spite of this not always being appropriate. Using the aforementioned balance example, yes we should practice but where do we draw the line?
I love to do my practice but I've managed to break free of that 'must do' mentality as it was driving me round the bloody bend. It was turning good stuff into bad stuff and what was practised to alleviate/manage the suffering actually became a part of the suffering. So some weeks, I'm a six day kind of guy and on others maybe one or two as I've got to do what's appropriate there and then.
So remember you lovely people, do what feels good and if six days or even one day a week feels good, then great stick to that.