Monday, February 6, 2012

Aaron - Thoughts on the practice

We're about a month in now, and I feel like we're at a point where we've got a good handle on the practice and can make some objective comments.

I will say that this has unequivocally improved my practice.

The focus and dedication of our teacher is inspiring, the six day a week practice is incredible and the energy present in the room is powerful.

I can also say that there is a little disappointment in terms of the method of instruction. In our YTT at the Yoga Sanctuary, we were constantly reinforced the idea of safety in your practice. If we were unable to do a certain pose, we were given prep poses that emulated the results of a given pose, that would prepare us for the eventual full expression of the pose.

Here, they teach that you cannot proceed in the series unless you have mastered each successive pose, at least to a certain level - the goal of which is typically, as we have heard Saraswathi say so many times "you are catching"? That is to say, you are reaching your feet in the forward folds, binding in Marichyasana's, and so on. I understand the principle behind this method - that is, to build strength and capability gradually, however, as it is employed here, there seems to be little attention paid to a western sense of "safe" or "healthy" alignment.

We were taught flat backs and hinged hips for forward folding; here all that is important is that "you are catching". Student are often encouraged to do whatever they can to reach their feet, or bind in a pose, regardless of the shape of their back. Even gasps of pain and expressions of extreme discomfort are not enough to stop attempted assists at times, which is contrary to everything we learned in the west.

To be clear, I don't want to paint Saraswathi as a cruel woman making her way around the room yanking terrified, crying students into poses they simply can't do... There is clearly levels of ability she is looking for that tell her that a person is able to begin attempting certain postures - and she is a caring, gentle woman who clearly loves seeing people progress and embrace the practice.

We simply cannot help but look around at times and notice students clearly feeling pain and discomfort as they attempt to force themselves into a pose. The counter to this is, and the philosophy of the teaching here, is the discipline of swadhyaya, or "self-study" - the fact is, we are responsible for our own practice and it is our own imperative to listen to our bodies, to know when to push further and when to back off. A teacher can talk about correct alignment and safety all they want, but in the end these things need to be experienced and understood by the student directly, or there can be no hope of true development in ones practice. This is a valuable lesson to learn, the importance of which cannot be stressed enough. Unfortunately, this is something that remains largely unsaid; there is little to no formal "teaching" here, more a monitoring of progression and assistance with the more complicated poses.

I think in the end there are great benefits to this system, things that western yoga teaching and particularly students could benefit greatly from, yet there are also things that could be learned from the west as well.

I don't regret a second of the time I've spent here, and I look forward to the progression in my practice that will take place over the coming months (I am finishing the primary series right now and will likely be receiving second series poses in next couple of weeks) as well as potentially many return trips.

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