“What kind of yoga do you teach?”
In simple terms, I teach yoga. There really is only one yoga. What we see here in the West with names like Hatha, Anusara, Ashtanga, can best be described as product branding. Scholars studying the original texts of yoga discovered that, in the beginning, there were only 16 physical poses documented. Spiritual masters would generally take a pose and remain in it until it opened up to them and they understood the full message of the pose. Yoga, however, is a living tradition so as the years went on, each person involved in the study had their own take on the practice or discovered poses within poses. The 16 poses, then, became the hundreds we now see in books and studios all over the world.
In yoga we speak of lineage–this is the perspective on yoga we are given by our long line of teachers. I was trained by Felicia and Ante Pavlovic of Yoga Therapy Toronto, and Saraswathi Vasudevan of YogaVahini. They learned from T K V Desikachar, son of Sri Krishnamacharya who was the grandfather of this lineage. Krishnamacharya believed in the power of yoga to heal illness, seeing illness as an impediment to spiritual enlightenment. These are the roots of yoga therapy as we know it today. He also believed very strongly that yoga needed to be applied to each individual as they are right now and did not believe so much in group classes. “One man’s medicine is another man’s poison” is the thinking behind this– what will help one student in a group class will absolutely harm another and should be avoided. Krishnamacharya worked very closely, one-on-one, with his students, unlocking the healing mysteries of the practice to help the ailing people in front of him. He also believed in “function over form”. Each pose has a therapeutic quality but not every body can physically take the pose. For example, 99% of the population, I believe, should never take a headstand. The headstand, however, has certain therapeutic qualities that many may need. There are other ways to experience these therapeutic qualities so Krishnamacharya worked with the student to decide what her body could do in order to experience these qualities.
I follow these lines of belief. I believe very strongly that yoga is a tool to help us with illness and imbalance. As anyone who has taken my class knows, I will not force you to take a pose if it is obvious it will cause you harm. I work to learn “what ails you” so I can use these marvellous tools to help you in those specific ways. And I work with people one-on-one so we can really use yoga in a way that helps YOU and you alone.
That is the kind of yoga I teach–the kind of yoga that is useful to the people standing in front of me. I see no reason to teach it any other way. Do you?