11 July 2018


                                 Image result for vintage yoga
               (film actress Mitzi Gaynor, probably 1950s)

Sometimes I think that I am too stuck in the past, regarding yoga. I'm not tweaking my downdogs, I'm not doing core activation, (actually I do in some poses, for myself), I am not extending prana (life force) out through my limbs. I am way out of touch.

I care not.

During decades of teaching yoga, I learnt some unusual things:
  • when you're teaching you have to think. Fast. You look up and see that someone is nursing their shoulder, or has a wrist bandage on. I have even had people come to class with a leg in a plaster cast.
  • I have had yoga teachers turn up to my class, stop doing it, and then writing down everything that I am saying
  • I learnt that teaching yoga in an alzheimers, dementia and psychosis unit, meant that I had to rethink absolutely every thing that I knew about yoga, and do something else instead
  • I learnt how to teach people who were heavily medicated, due to mental health problems
  • I learnt that people who were heavily traumatised were unsuited for meditation, and going within
  • I learnt, decades ago, that I may have known all about chakras et al, but I really didn't know where to put my big toe in trikonasana (triangle pose), nor what muscles to contract in a forward bend (but I did quickly learn!)
  • I learnt that the more the yoga was "made better', the more the essence of it was lost
And this last point, was the most important aspect:

that the essence of a very effective system, was being lost. Due to the poses being "made better"

The asanas (postures) are about the physical body, yes, for sure. When I first learnt yoga, a l-o-n-g time ago, they weren't actually for great muscles and intense stretching. The older type of muscle structure from yoga, was for the muscles being small and toned, yet long. I find that today, people have different muscle formation from yoga. The muscles are now more bulky, and this is, I believe,  from doing a predominance of standing poses. Like Warriors, and big Triangle poses, and holding them for a long time, too.

And also from emphasis on form. Form being how to get into, how to hold, and how to come out of, a pose. This includes all poses when one is talking about form.

When muscles are being contracted, whilst others are deeply stretched, whilst holding a pose, this does, of course, create muscle development. Beautiful, strong, defined, muscles. And, really, I am not criticising this, as such. I am just pointing out a direction which yoga has taken.

Going back to those big standing poses: it wasn't until I went to a new style of yoga which had been brought to the west, Iyengar Yoga, and this was decades ago, that I ever did a modern warrior pose. Iyengar Yoga is very much involved with musculature. 

It was that class (I never went back to that teacher!) which destroyed my back. Forever. Doing a pose I was well familiar with, that I could do easily - up till after The Back Incident. It was the plough pose. It had been made "better".

I had already been going to a teacher who allowed us to do the postures, at our own level. No way could I do a plough when I first started yoga, but after a few months, I could, without harming myself. I got there, into that pose, as my body slowly adjusted. Bit by bit. And then I wrecked all my efforts by going to a teacher who "knew how to do the poses properly".

When I was training yoga teachers, which I did for many years, I did have to know how to teach the new  "accepted standard" of yoga, and by this I mean the whole lot - poses, breathing, prana locks, meditations, yoga nidra. And I did do this. I was most particular about details, as I knew that the people whom I was training would be judged by how well they knew all of these modern bits and pieces.

I also, many years ago, introduced how to do poses if, for example, a student in a class has back problems. And how to modify poses, for various reasons. I am assuming that everyone knows this sort of information, nowadays. I understand how the standards of professionalism, do matter.
                                Image result for vintage yoga

But, at the same time, I was sad about it all. Sad that the true essence of all of the practices, was being last. You could call this "progress", "keeping up with things", whatever.....

The asanas, the poses, were originally for:
  • getting the body fine-tuned. On all levels
  • building up the various nervous systems
  • correcting the endocrine system
  • getting the organs healthy
  • clearing the emotional content stored in the body
Now we have "shakti bandhas" for clearing the body. "Pawanmuktasana" series for joint or digestive health. Long Ashtanga Yoga series for doing things like building up the nervous system. Iyengar yoga to build muscles and bones. Prana Flow Yoga, Vinyasa, Power Yoga, Yin, Bikram, so many different styles. 

Which is great. Something for everybody. But, in many cases, I still do feel that the essence of a great system, is lost there, somehow.

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