Thursday, October 1, 2009

Non-dogmatic Yogi

I tell myself that I am not a dogmatic yogi. At the same time, I can only practice yoga based on the studies and practice I’ve done up to now. So it is inevitable that the tastes and flavors of the systems of yoga that I have practiced come through in what I do currently. I have learned from others who have passed what they have learned to me (so cool). I love that there are aspects of what I do that transmits this learning of yoga that came before me, and will go beyond me. I am filled with awe when I think this way. This is the reality of the experience for me.

When I saw that Yogaview was offering an Ashtanga Yoga Week with Petri Raisanen I was intrigued. I cleared my schedule of early morning classes and private lessons to participate in a week of morning Mysore yoga practice. I just felt the need to do this for myself. And I thought that practicing with this teacher from Finland would be interesting. Before he became a full-time Ashtanga teacher he worked as a traditional Finnish folk healer, and his healing intent shown in his teaching style.

Several years ago, when I regularly practiced according to the Mysore style practice, I mostly felt that the adjustments were trying to get me somewhere—and this most likely reflects my own intent in the practice at the time. But I tended to feel a little over-stretched from the practice, psychologically and physically. At the same time I experienced benefit, also. My yoga practice at this time had a momentum that carried me to a new place.

In Petri’s teaching verbal instruction was sparse, but his physical adjustments and presence spoke volumes. His eyes are magical (they just are), and he carries a joyful vibe that’s infectious. When a student was getting something he would exclaim, “YES!” I love that.

I experienced an especially spirit-nourishing moment in Supta Kurmasana. In the past this always felt like a stressful pose, and my teachers did their best to pull and arrange my body parts into it. And just-so-you-know, my feet were not behind my head and my hands touched, but were not clasped, so it was a modified pose. However, I had a moment in my version of the pose on that morning where I felt totally contented and relaxed, positively joyful to be right where I was with my arms and legs beautifully braided around my experience of myself, safe in the center. I wanted to stay there, but also felt a pull toward completing the practice, so I moved on eventually.

When I walked in on that first day of practice I was a bit afraid because I was coming back to a practice I had not done in some time. I stood at the front of my mat for a while just getting a grip, and Petri welcomed me and said, “You know Sun Salutations, right?” And yes I did, and more than that also. Before I knew what happened I was loving it. …such a great experience.

I remember thinking during the week that anybody who dismisses or talks poorly about another system of yoga simply has not done enough of it. I have had incredible experiences in Ashtanga, Iyengar, Anusara, and Kripalu (Heck, I got a lot out of Richard Hittleman's Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan, back in the day…). So what gives? It makes me wonder about the mentality of yogis who want to structure their experience in an exclusive way. Why must my yoga be better than your yoga? To really grow as human beings, and be better yogis maybe we need to try one anothers yoga.


YogaforCynics said... yoga kinda IS better than your yoga...

Just kidding. Couldn't agree with ya more. I went to a kundalini class at noon and may go to a vinyasa class in an hour or so(gotta love the unlimited pass), and have enjoyed Iyengar and Anusara, and perhaps maybe some day will even find my way to the midwest for a BrooksHall class...

Brooks Hall said...

That sounds great, Dr. Jay YogaforCynics! When you visit I hope we can talk, too.

Morgan said...

I've been thinking about this a lot myself the past few weeks! I believe in having a tradition that primarily influences my teaching and practice but also opening myself up to all that the other traditions teach me. Yoga is about being open to a multitude of experiences that bring us closer to the Self and no tradition has all the answers!

Bob Weisenberg said...

I agree, diversity is a great strength of Yoga, not a weakness.

All systems have something special to offer.

Bob Weisenberg

Yogadawg said...

You could also use the Yoga Conversion Kit

Good post Brooks!

Linda-Sama said...

I've said (and written) for a long time that "yoga is yoga" -- it's the labeling of it that is an American thing, we need to put things in boxes for mass consumption. people always ask me what style I teach and my answer is always the same: my style.

In my 15+ years of yoga-ing, I think I've tried every style, and you know what? yoga is yoga. we resonate with certain ideas and teachers just like anything else. you like vanilla, I like chocolate.

acorn. said...

Hi Brooks! I love your blog. This post really resonates with me and transcends into my work, as a social worker. Colleagues so often get caught up in what the "best" modality is to treat individuals suffering from various illnesses. I believe this mindset is an incredible disservice to both the teacher/clinician and to their students/clients.

The more we know about different styles and even other disciplines, the more we are able to both realize and cater to the uniqueness of the individuals we work with. There is no one way to heal so it's intuitive to integrate different styles and philosophies. It's my dream to promote healing by integrating yoga and meditation into my social work practice one day. I truly believe in healing holistically and I thank you for bringing that into your classes.


PS-I won't be able to make it to class this Monday but hope to the following Monday.

Anonymous said...

So far in my yogini life, I've tried Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, Adi and now Shadow yoga (which has me very excited BTW).

I am taking my initial teacher training in Hatha yoga, because that is how I've been guided by my teacher/Guru. And its served me well.

But it is only the beginning, and I intend to follow yoga down whichever path(s) work for me.

And like all things in life, there are many paths. Some make our insides sing more than others. That's how I know which styles of yoga I'm doing - the ones that makes my body, heart and mind sing.

Bob Weisenberg said...


Is there really such a thing a "Shadow Yoga". I thought I made it up when I wrote this blog:

Bob W.

Brooks Hall said...

I'd like to hear more about Shadow yoga, too!