This is a question I ask my students a fair amount in my yoga classes. Usually in this context: "If this is feeling good, try putting your foot behind your head. If that hurts, ask yourself why you are doing it!"
But this becomes a bigger question for me sometimes as well: why am I doing this? Why am I teaching yoga? And why do I practice yoga? This thing, this spiritual practice or exercise regime, whatever you want to think of it as, has become my entire life--everything I do is a part of my yoga, and that question comes up all the time, you know, like, a) why do I drink so much wine? Or b) why will I stay home tonight and watch movies instead of go to my friend's party? [answers include a) because I LOVE it and b) because I'd rather teach a good class tomorrow morning)
Well one of the reasons I am doing this is that yoga has helped me to deal with a lifetime of issues with anxiety and many difficult periods in my life. Yoga has made me feel strong when I haven't been, and its showed me that my body was capable of things that I didn't think were possible, so it gave me the hope that everything is possible. It's just yoga, sure, and that's important to remember when we as teachers worry too much about what our students think of us. But at the same time yoga has been a sacred thing to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.
And I think the direction yoga in Vancouver is going is kind of...interesting. There seems to be a lot of emphasis lately on what I've been calling 'celebrity poses': forearm stand, handstand, scorpion, crow pose and its variations, and all kinds of other arm balances. Now, don't get me wrong, I love those poses, I love inverting, and figuring out how to do them to the degree I have has afforded me a lot of self confidence. But everyone's body is different [and let's be honest, many of these poses are easier for a man's upper body strength and higher centre of gravity] and those aren't the poses that made me fall in love with yoga. I didn't even know what they WERE until about a year ago.
I should also be clear that I am no last bastion for classical yoga in the West--I'm a pretty Western yogi, and I'm all about doing whatever works for you. But I can't help but get the feeling that something is getting lost in some of these classes that have been about 5% core, 80% arm balancing, and 15% sun saluting, especially when I leave the room feeling...weak, small, skinny, powerless, and worse, injured from trying to do a pose my body wasn't ready for. I may be a teacher now, but I still offer myself up to my teachers as a student to create all that magic I've relied on for years now.
And then I realized something....love and compassion are really difficult to feel when you are angry at yourself and frustrated because you can't do something other people can! Love and compassion often are accompanied by a feeling of power, and powerlessness makes it a lot easier to be bitter and hateful.
Well THAT's interesting. And something I'm going to need to work on. And for this work, I will head to those teachers that have that amazing talent of making me feel awesome no matter what I can do. [Hey Ego! Oh, good to know you're still here!] And thank goodness, there are lots of those teachers in this city too. Love and compassion. And biceps. Here I come.