Yoga Musings

Mixing it Up

It’s easy to get hooked on a single studio, a single type of yoga, or even a single favorite teacher. I’ve literally seen students at my local studio cry when “their teacher” moves away. And I’ve seen students turn around and walk right out of the studio when they find out that there is a substitute teacher. Lately, I’ve been trying to break any attachment I have to a single school of yoga or any single teacher, and to broaden my horizons by learning from a wide range of people coming from a wide range of yoga traditions.

There are many benefits to mixing it up and trying out different teachers. First, from a physical perspective, you are more likely to learn and improve if you draw from a wider range of teachers. Sometimes, if you practice constantly with the same one or two teachers, you come to learn their teaching style so well that you can predict what the next pose is going to be before the teacher even says anything. Of course, there’s something nice about going to comfortable, familiar place. But there is also something great about making yourself uncomfortable by exposing yourself to novelty.

Whenever I take class from a teacher I’ve never tried before, I find myself stumbling a little bit because I don’t quite get all of their instructions, and I’m not totally used to their way of sequencing the poses. But, inevitably, I always walk away from such an experience with at least one new bit of knowledge. Maybe a new pose, a new variation, a new way of getting into a pose, or simply a new way of conceiving a pose can help you to grow in ways you didn’t know were possible. This has certainly been the case for me. I’ve been practicing yoga for going on six years now, and a few weeks ago, I took a class with a new teacher who totally blew my mind with her approach to Warrior II, a very basic pose and one that you might think a seasoned practitioner would already know inside and out.

Besides the physical benefits of trying out new teachers, there is also the benefit of breaking free from attachments. Sure, the yoga system (if we can even talk about a single yoga “system” in this way) is based on a kind of teacher-student or master-disciple relationship. But I doubt that this system is supposed to promote a highly emotional dependency on one’s teacher. Ultimately, we want to become our own teachers. That journey becomes easier once we see that everyone is a potential teacher to us, not just our favorite teacher who teaches in our favorite style of yoga.

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3 thoughts on “Mixing it Up

  1. Sometimes teachers become more than just teachers. If you go to a teacher often it’s easy to blur the student/teacher line. I find that a lot of great yoga teachers are really there for their students – above and beyond helping them in a pose. Yoga tends to bring up a lot of emotion and a lot of the teaching process involves helping students deal not only with the physicality of their poses, but with the emotions that come up. The ability to be there for a student is what makes a lot of teachers great teachers. Sure, it’s silly to leave a class when there is a substitute and you should be open to new things but to not understand why someone would express strong emotions at a goodbye seems close minded. I haven’t had a “favorite” yoga teacher in a long time (3 years) but I sometimes long for that relationship. There are so many great benefits to having someone who really knows you and your body.

    Beyond that, certain styles of yoga are more comfortable with different body types. Vinyasa flow and ashtanga styles can really hurt some people. Iyengar can be too slow for others. If one type of yoga makes you happy and is fulfilling your needs, why is that a problem? It’s also very presumptuous of you to assume that everyone has the luxury to move around between different styles/teachers. Purchasing a pass at one studio is usually the most economic way to practice yoga. Sure, if we all had a ton of time and money we could go anywhere we wanted. But unfortunately many people do not. That’s not to say convenience should be the most important thing in your practice, but I do think we should try to avoid snobbery.

    I understand the point you are trying to make, I just don’t agree with how you put it out there. It feels very judgmental.

  2. Hi Jenah,

    Thanks for your comments, and for taking the time to write. I’m sorry if my posting came off as snobby or judgmental. I tried to present both sides of the issue, and gave a nod to the fact that “there is something nice about going to a comfortable, familiar place,” while also touting some of the benefits of going beyond this comfort zone.

    Also, you are right to point out that some types of yoga might not be for everyone. I’m sorry that I overlooked such an obvious point, and I’m doubly sorry if my oversight struck you as being insensitive. Some people certainly do have physical limitations, and, say, might not be able to handle a vinyasa flow class or an ashtanga class. And, as you rightly point out, not everyone has the economic means to shop around and take classes with a wide variety of teachers at different studios. Barring such limitations, though, my main point was simply to suggest that people should think about being more open minded and trying out different things, things that might be new, challenging, or even strange to them. I think this is good general policy to follow in life, and also when it comes to yoga classes and yoga teachers.

    Finally, I’d like to clear up what I was trying to say about people’s highly emotional relationships with their teachers. Basically, my opinion is that being emotionally attached to a teacher or a style of yoga is actually very unyogic, if you believe that one of the primary goals of yoga (at least in some school’s of yoga) is to develop nonattachment. In other words, I don’t think that yoga should be like therapy, and I don’t think a yoga teacher should play the role of or serve the function of a therapist. This seems to happen a lot, though, and, yes, I am challenging that. Hopefully, in doing so, I’ve been a *discerning* yogi as opposed to a judgmental one. My apologies if I’ve been the latter.

  3. On the nonattachment theme: I think a lot of people need to go through a period of intense attachment to another person as they develop the physical and psychological integrity required for true nonattachment. If you’ve never really been attached, how can nonattachment make sense to you? Would you argue that Jois or Iyengar were never attached to Krishnamacharya?

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