In “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n Roll'” a biopic about Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen recalls working with Berry as a session musician. Bruce is the kind of musician who likes to have a plan before his performances, so he asked Berry what he was planning to play that night. Berry looked at him scornfully, as if he had asked the dumbest question ever, and said, “Chuck Berry music!”
People ask me what kind of yoga I teach. The questions startles me, because I don’t think of yoga as a kind of Baskin-Robbins assortment of flavors. The very word yoga means “union” in Sanskrit. How could yoga be separated into types?
But of course, this is the United States, and yoga has become a commodity. Some teachers think they have to differentiate themselves, put their own stamp on the practice. There’s Bikram, Corepower, vinyasa flow.
Not that most of the people who ask me the question know the difference between the various styles of yoga currently in the market. They only know there are differences. They’ve been trained to expect differences–choices may be a better word–through the relentlessness of advertising.
Now I’m not saying there is only one true way to teach yoga. I am a traditionalist in many facets of my life, but I’m no fundamentalist. Traditionalism connotes a certain conservatism, and though my politics are progressive, my take on yoga is indeed very conservative. I aim to stay true to the original spirit of the practice–which teaches how to develop all aspects of the Self, body, mind and spirit. Much of what passes as yoga instruction in this country is what I call yoga-infused calisthenics. Many yoga teacher training programs focus on the physical postures without discussing meditation, pranayama, lifestyle recommendations and ethical precepts.
I don’t say all of this to those who ask about my teaching, of course. Instead I tell people I teach classical Hatha yoga. I train at an ashram near my home in Colorado. What I learn and incorporate into my own practice and teaching are the traditional principles I learn from my teachers there. Samadhi, or union with the Divine, is the goal I reach for. Not inner peace, not balancing on my head, or forearms, or one foot–although all of these can properly lead me to the intense concentration that is a hallmark of samadhi. It is precisely seeking this one distant, elusive goal that most motivates me.
My teachers consistently say that through the process of reaching samadhi you will learn more about what you are not than you will identify and claim who you are. It is all about shedding the collections the personality and the ego persist in preserving, so that the divine light within each of us can shine through. That is what I am aiming for and what I am guiding my students toward, through the media of the postures and the breath.
If a student’s main goal is to get their heart rate up and break a sweat, my classes are probably not for them. I am most definitely not in competition with Zumba or other fitness classes. Yoga stands alone in its ability to address the whole human condition. I’m not averse to teaching rigorous classes, and I do so when I perceive that the students in my class are physically ready for it. For whatever reasons, God is sending me a lot of women over 60 who have never done yoga before. It is the perfect time in their lives to take up a practice like yoga, and I honor their willingness to begin something new and challenging In an atmosphere of safety.
From my own practice as both a teacher and student of yoga, I know that I don’t leave a yoga class in the same way as I leave other fitness classes. The postures and the breathing invoke fundamental though subtle changes in my being. This is why a small and dedicated group of students keep assembling every week for my classes. I am so grateful to them for accepting yoga’s challenge–to know themselves fully in all their radiance and subtlety.