Modern Yoga Myths, Part II. Flow, Interrupted

In our previous blog we identified three contemporary manifestations of Swāmi Vivekānanda’s warning against the mysticism of yoga. Unfortunately, there are several more subtle ways which modern yoga teachers employ in order to give the power to themselves while devoiding the student of their own power.

Hands on adjustments

This is such a touchy subject. Pun intended. 🙂 It is really hard to find a yoga class these days where the teacher will refrain from physically adjusting the students. There seems to be this false belief in the yoga community, where it is considered imperative for the teacher to “touch” the student in order to “connect” with them. (Please, add some fufu-ness to your voice when reading the words “touch” and “connect”.) This not only goes against the teachings of the Father of Modern Hatha Yoga, T. Kṛṣṇamācārya, it can also be identified legally as a “battery” in some parts of the United States and as an “assault” in others.

We are so much more than the physical body. Any encounter we have with our environment translates, whether consciously or sub-consciously to emotional, mental and psychological bio-energies that will either benefit us or hurt us.

The moment that the teacher lays hands on the student to help them get into the proper “alignment”, the student’s brain decides that they need help, that they are unable to accomplish that pose for themselves.

This physiologically reinforces in them the same old neural pathways of weakness, lack of, insufficient abilities, etc. It takes the power away from them. And at the same time it gives the power to the teacher. The student will never be given the space to improve, to grow.

There are also several other, purely practical reasons that make “hands on adjustments” obsolete in a group setting:

  • Assuming that you have a full class, there is not enough time to “adjust” every student. Some students will be left out and even worse, feel left out.
  • There is obviously a high risk of injury during the hands on adjustment. That type of work requires extensive, specialized medical training and a private setting.
  • As we mentioned earlier, we are so much more than this physical body. There are a lot of psychological vulnerabilities that can re-surface during a “hands on adjustment”. The group setting of a yoga class is not conducive to addressing such occurrences.
  • Asking the class ahead of time for whoever does not wish to be touched, to raise their hand, does not guarantee that it will work. Students are often hesitant to speak up since they do not want to feel singled out, they simply won’t come back or even worse, won’t ever practice yoga again.

Watching the Teacher Practice

In today’s yoga classes, it is very common that the teacher “guides” or “leads” the practice of the class by performing in front of every one, similar to “being on stage”. (Please, add some fufu-ness to your voice when reading “guide” or “lead”.) Another subtle way of taking the power away from the student. The student needs to be “watching” the teacher and follow their “lead”. The teacher is essentially stealing the student’s time. The student’s attention is now on what the teacher is doing; worse yet on how they cannot perform the pose as well as the teacher.

What this also ends up cultivating is more of the externalization of the senses. We are already highly visual beings. Our world is flooded with graphics, images, videos and movies that populate every media outlet from the magazine covers to our handheld devices and the big screen; constantly demanding and often stealing our attention. In contrast, we are significantly disconnected from our auditory sense. We may “hear” what others say, but we do not “listen”. Being able to listen, is a skill that we need to cultivate for our continued well-being. One of the most effective ways for the student to develop that skill is by first listening to the teacher’s verbal cues and then translating them into their own body. This process also brings the student’s attention within; within their very own body, resulting in a very subtle concentration exercise. As Swāmi Vivekānanda said:

“When the body is sufficiently controlled we can attempt the manipulation of the mind.”

Many teachers today have to physically demonstrate, i.e. perform the practice themselves while they teach. This is the result of poor training and/or lack of education. Being able to verbalize the poses and not needing to physically show them requires deep understanding of both the pose itself and the human body. Sadly enough, a lot of yoga teachers underestimate the intricacies of the human anatomy and physiology. They seem to have acquired a false and in fact detrimental impression. They believe that every body should be able to do every pose in the universally prescribed way, if they dedicate themselves to yoga and practice long enough. They forget that each one of us has such a unique skeletal composition, that even if two people happen to look remotely similar while in a pose, they are not feeling it the same way.

Misuse of the Śavāsana Process

Śavāsana is the Sanskrit word for the corpse posture. “Lie on your back, with the legs extended, feet apart, arms a few inches away from the rest of the body, palms facing up or down.” The corpse pose is a relaxation posture; it is not a meditation posture. The aim of the corpse pose is muscular and mental relaxation, not sleep or meditation. Relaxation releases deep tensions and meditation pulls the mind inward and introduces it to higher states. Meditation cannot begin without a relaxed body, mind and emotional state.

Reading during Śavāsana, such as in a guided meditation or visualization exercise, takes away from the mind-wandering and daydreaming aspects that we are targeting.

The use of essential oils, during Śavāsana such as in aromatherapy, causes discomfort for students sensitive or allergic to certain scents, which is counter-productive to the relaxation process. Asking the class ahead of time for whoever does not wish to experience the essential oil, to raise their hand, is pointless. The smell spreads; the students who do not like the smell simply won’t come back, or even worse, never practice yoga again.

Śavāsana if taught properly, is a lot more than a pose; Śavāsana is a process, an integral part of a yoga class.

To summarize — without the hands on adjustments, without having to watch the teacher practice, and without having to be distracted by the teacher’s favorite quotes and essential smells, the student can be given the space to listen, feel, and experience for themselves. It is the listening, feeling and experiencing, that give the student the clearly defined goals and immediate feedback they need to experience Ānanda.

The opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Shut Up & Yoga.

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